SUNY Buffalo State: A 20-year Retrospective
In this era of accelerating economic and social globalization, educators must come together to pursue the common goal of nurturing children to embrace curiosity and openness about other cultures and to seek peaceable resolution to conflict. As a key component of this comprehensive objective, it is imperative today’s teachers develop skills to individualize instruction and assessment, promote inquiry-based learning, and endow students with sustainable conceptions of equity, equality, and collective humanity, all in international and intercultural contexts (Deardorff, 2015; Lovorn, Manning & Warsh, 2017; Participate Global Educators [PGE], 2017). Of course, like all aspects of teacher development, intersectional globalization and educational training should continue well into professional practice (Trilokekar & Kukar, 2011).
The International Graduate Program for Educators (IGPE) at SUNY Buffalo State provides this continuing education and professional development for teachers in international schools. Now in its 21st year of operation, IGPE remains a dynamic and incisive program designed to provide flexible, affordable professional development for in-service teachers in international contexts. This article provides a brief history of IGPE’s role in the advancement of international education, describes our unique program design, and proposes a list of essential attributes for program success and sustainability – all through my eyes. I am the IGPE director.
IGPE’s Origin & Growth
In 1999, there were an estimated 2,000 recognized and reputable PK-12 international schools around the world. Today there are over 10,000 schools dotting six continents, and geographic diversity is only part of this 20-year boom (ISC Research, 2018). Private international schools have always served families of plutocracy and the ruling elite; however, many have now evolved to accommodate children from across various societal spectra and backgrounds, including those from bi- and tri-lingual households, those who have tested (and are yet to be tested) gifted and talented, those with special needs, and those described by some as “at risk.” ISC market research attributes this exponential growth in services to a boom in global business and industry as well as demands for higher quality schools by more parents from more places (2018).
As more international schools opened around the world, competition among them increased. Campaigns for students and families created several positive byproducts; among them, competitive tuition pricing, rigorous curricula, and aggressive teacher hiring practices. One additional byproduct was the need for school administrators to ensure their teaching faculty remain at the forefront of theory and practice in the field. Such organic quality control led many directors to adopt school-wide training goals and initiatives.
Percipient international education experts at SUNY Buffalo State took note of this growing need – and market – and in 1999, IGPE was born. Since its inception, IGPE has offered coursework and professional development for teachers and administrators in over 60 international schools in more than 30 countries around the world. It all started in Colombia.
In 1999, SUNY Buffalo State international education experts attended a Tri-Association conference where they met school heads from the Columbus School in Medellín. After an intuitive discussion on the need for contextualizing continuing education in international schools, and significant legwork on both parts, SUNY Buffalo State piloted a new concept of graduate coursework at the Columbus School.
At that time, school administrators expressed an interest in offering professional development targeting teacher practice, so selected courses included: Seminar for the Reflective Educator, Holistic Curriculum, Teaching Individuals with Exceptionalities, and Strategies for Effective Teaching. As long-term partnerships tend to do, our relationship and program offerings with the Columbus School have evolved significantly over the years and each new cohort has its own identity and focus.
Subsequent cohorts selected other curricular foci, including educational leadership, special education, and most recently, ESL. We credit our ability to target these particular areas with this uninterrupted partnership, and to date, we estimate 250 Columbus School teachers have earned a SUNY Buffalo State master’s degree. In 2020, the Columbus School, along with the School of the Nations in Brasilia and the English Modern School in Doha, continue to pilot our program evolution by offering our new micro-credentials and serving as a SUNY Buffalo State International Professional Development School (IPDS) host/exchange site.
The IGPE Design
IGPE has a special arrangement with SUNY and MSCHE to facilitate a Master of Science degree in Multidisciplinary Studies with a programmatic theme in International Education. That is a mouthful indeed, but this long title ensures our program flexibility. IGPE offers advanced and continuing education exclusively to international educators with unique professional and educational objectives not readily met by traditional graduate study. We pull courses from educational theory and practice, curriculum development, educational leadership, special education, English as a second language, educational technology, creativity studies, social foundations, and educational research. To date, we boast over 3,000 alumni worldwide, many of whom have risen to school directorships themselves, and who, based on their experience with the program, have launched new partnerships with us.
We promote the program by staffing informational tables at conferences of major international schools associations. Our long-time partners include AASSA, AISA, CEESA, EARCOS, MAIS, NESA, and Tri-Association. Upon initial interest as expressed by a school head or principal, I draft a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MoU) between SUNY Buffalo State and the host site. This MoU outlines stakeholder roles and all services to be provided throughout the partnership. With this understanding, new partners agree in principle to host our 30-credit (ten-course) master’s degree. We also determine how courses will be delivered: face-to-face, online, or in hybrid platforms, depending on the needs of the cohort. Typically, cohorts run on a two-year cycle, offering five courses each year, although we can lengthen or shorten this duration at the host site’s pleasure. They may also pause or cancel the program at any time.
I work closely with host site directors, curriculum coordinators, and/or site coordinators to select courses from our course catalog or to develop new courses altogether. This collaborative process is inherently flexible and intended to support the school’s professional development initiatives while adhering to all SUNY and Middle States rules, guidelines, policies, and procedures. Our veteran expert instructors then make content relevant across grade and developmental levels in international schools. It should be noted we are also the only program who vets and regularly employs local (site-based) experts as course instructors.
IGPE accepts master’s degree-seeking, pre-major, and non-degree-seeking applicants; each of whom must hold an approved bachelor’s degree. To maintain program merit, all applicants must be admitted to our graduate school prior to starting courses. In lieu of TOEFL scores, applicants submit a formal English proficiency statement, signed by their school head, attesting to the applicant’s ability to communicate, complete coursework, meet program expectations in English.
The Importance of Context
IGPE courses remain true to on-campus catalog descriptions; however, they are also contextualized to meet programmatic competencies and student learning objectives in international schools. As an example, one popular IGPE course is Seminar in Educational Change (Educational Leadership 604). When offered on campus, this course examines local, state, and national processes of change, educational change over the last decade, qualities and processes that enhance or inhibit change, and personal and systemic change in the educational setting. In addition to the original course elements, IGPE instructors engage students in examinations of processes of change among affiliated international schools, and how American curriculum affect systemic change in other parts of the world.
Course activities are also crafted to meet one or more of six institutional student learning objectives (SLOs) for the Master of Science in Multidisciplinary Studies degree. They make up components of the graduate school assessment plan and are embedded in various courses. SLO 1 is to demonstrate effective and appropriate communication skills through coherent and well-organized written presentations. SLO 2 is to demonstrate effective and appropriate communication skills through coherent and well-organized oral and visual presentations SLOs 1 and 2 are addressed in all IGPE courses.
SLO 3 is to demonstrate the ability to creatively use information, concepts, analytical approaches, and critical thinking skills in one or more disciplines; and competency in making connections that will synthesize and transfer learning to new and complex situations. SLO 4 is to ethically identify, access, critically evaluate, and apply information throughout collections of work. SLO 5 is to demonstrate a basic knowledge of research design, methodology, and measurement strategies that addresses a problem in the field. SLO 6 is to demonstrate analytical skills through self-reflection to access individual performances of collections of work, and to show evidence of personal, professional, and civic engagement.
SLOs 3, 4, 5 and 6 are embedded in the final two courses: Methods and Techniques of Educational Research and the Master’s Project, and each is evaluated by applicable rubrics for written communication, oral communication, critical thinking, ethical reasoning, and integrative learning. Along with the global competencies, the SLOs are used to guide students’ in-program growth. Many or all of these concepts are demonstrated in students’ action research projects in the final two courses: Methods and Techniques of Educational Research and the Master’s Project.
Because our courses and workshops are available exclusively to students who live and work abroad, SUNY recognizes their inability to take advantage of on-campus (and many online) amenities. This has enabled much more market-conscious program pricing. We understand compensation for teachers in international schools varies widely depending on several factors, including school location, prestige, and even each teacher’s nationality. To defray program expenses, I invite each new host site to allocate portions of their professional development budget to cost-share tuition. This makes the degree more accessible to partner schools’ local hires who often earn significantly less than their expat colleagues.
Each course costs $5,800 (total tuition for cohorts of up to 25 students) plus a $25 per-student programmatic fee, paid directly to IGPE. Course instructors also earn an additional $2,500 honorarium, paid by the host site at the end of each course. For face-to-face courses, the host site also pays for instructors’ travel expenses (flight, ground transportation, lodging, meals). This expense is typically divided among all participants.
IGPE invoices the host site for the $5,800 and programmatic fees, and the host site agrees to collect student portions of this fee and send payment as one lump sum. Many partner sites commit additional professional development funding to further defray participants’ out-of-pocket expenses. Our ability to hire local experts – oftentimes administrators at the host site itself – provides us with another cost saving measure, eliminating travel costs and enabling flexible instructor honoraria. Table 1 breaks down typical per-student cost.
In addition to being impressed by the autonomy to tailor courses and workshops to their professional development needs, international school administrators regularly cite IGPE’s price point as a major factor in making their final selection of a provider. Of course, the financial “bottom line” is of interest to all stakeholders, and perhaps not surprisingly, this is a sticking point when it comes to wooing university administrators to support a graduate program with a substantially reduced tuition rate. Those university administrators who do not work regularly in international contexts may insist on out-of-state (or even in-state) tuition for participants in programs of this nature. These stakeholders may need to be informed or reminded of tuition rates this market will bear.
Naturally, international school heads consider numerous factors when selecting higher education and professional development partners. These school heads regularly demonstrate tremendous appreciation for our unique pricing structure that recognizes they are unable to take advantage of on-campus amenities. In fact, this may be considered one of the key factors considered by potential new programs. Currently, IGPE has only one competitor – Framingham State University – reporting similar tuition and fees; virtually all others are significantly more expensive. Fortunately for SUNY Buffalo State, at least for now, no competitor, including Framingham State, can match IGPE’s program flexibility.
Attributes for Success in International In-Service Teacher Education
IGPE leads the in-service teacher education market with a time-tested and sustainable model. Perhaps our greatest program strengths are found in our theoretical framework, grounded in celebration of truly global mindsets, diverse and divergent perspectives, and educational globalization. In addition to our unmatched price point, the program also thrives on a deep sense of trust among stakeholders and a commitment to flexible admissions criteria and program design, highly-contextualized instruction, and vision for program growth and evolution.
Program flexibility: When operating in a global market, program flexibility is an imperative. It cannot be overstated that potential program participants – in-service teachers – come from all parts of the world. Their academic and professional backgrounds are not invalidated, nor are they less substantive simply because they emerged from unfamiliar systems. We believe such a notion is counterintuitive to virtually all concepts of global competence. Prohibitive admissions requirements should be reviewed, and as appropriate, reinterpreted to reflect a more comprehensive institutional understanding of international applicants’ backgrounds and records.
IGPE is the most flexible program in the international graduate education field. The master’s degree is made up of ten courses, only two of which are program requirements. The preceding eight courses may be selected in a manner so as to tailor coursework and professional development to each host site’s particular goals or needs. I welcome school heads and directors into planning phases of their cohort’s course set. Many partners are International Baccalaureate schools, and thus prefer a more holistic curriculum. Others are interested in creating an in-house educational leadership pipeline. Still others are interested in revamping their English as a Second Language programs. From face-to-face, online, or hybrid platform, to synchronous or asynchronous course delivery, we can accommodate virtually any site-based need or preference.
Staff & instructors who fit the context: I contend the best way to “future-proof” an international education program is to assemble a staff and faculty who possess expertise in teaching and learning in international contexts and who have a track record of global scholarship or collegiality. IGPE relies on more than 100 adjunct graduate faculty for the delivery of our courses and workshops. Most of our instructors have years of teaching and/or administrative experience in PK-12 international schools. Some are even active administrators in the arena. Their experience contextualizes instruction and enables us to maintain an organically strong reputation in the market.
As evidence of our commitment to diversity at all levels, I have recruited instructors from various underrepresented ethnic, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds, diversifying our instructor pool by 20% over the past two years. In addition to adding numerous instructors from diverse backgrounds in the United States, Table 2 lists new instructors (vetted in the past two years) who hail from various countries around the world.
Regardless of background, our instructors are also attuned to IGPE’s commitment to student satisfaction. They buy into and promote our model, contribute to our common goals, and attend to students’ particular needs with great care and personalized attention before, during, and after courses.
Vision for Program Growth and Evolution
For many years, IGPE unilaterally served only international clientele and had only a very limited role in on-campus functions. Since assuming the directorship, we have worked to diversify our contributions and expand our reach to the SUNY Buffalo State campus communities. One example of this commitment is our collaboration with the SUNY Buffalo State IPDS consortium. IPDS has a stellar history of facilitating global competencies training for teacher candidates through first-hand experiences and short-term exchange. IGPE staff have served as liaisons and expert advisors for new IPDS partnerships, and we are actively helping develop their vision to extend their reach to in-service teacher development, especially targeting their cultural knowledge and perspective-based learning opportunities.
I have two additional visions for IGPE, and am pleased to report I have taken initial steps toward actualizing both. First, one of the more common questions I receive at conferences is about the establishment of a doctoral degree. I have approached SUNY Buffalo State deans and provosts about an educational doctorate specifically designed for teachers and administrators in international schools, and initial feedback has been positive.
Second, one of the epiphanies I have had as director is that, even with our accessibility and program that offers undergraduate credit-bearing PD for teachers who do not have the credentials or degree equivalency in regions, including sub-Saharan Africa, many educators still do not have the funding to afford this coursework. Thus, we are working to partner with NGOs to establish partnerships and funding to help defray the cost of our coursework even further in regions such as East and West Africa.
I am so pleased to be a part of the SUNY Buffalo State International Graduate Program for Educators, facilitating accredited, high-quality graduate coursework and professional development for teachers and administrators in PK-12 international schools. My staff and I are committed to promoting and supporting international education by fostering global collaboration, inviting divergent perspectives, and celebrating diversity in its many forms and contexts.
Our program is not without challenges. Like most international programs, IGPE has been confronted with systemic challenges that have occasionally thwarted our mission. During a recent Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Challenges (SWOC) analysis, I identified three immediate and program challenges: (1) somewhat prohibitive graduate admissions requirements; (2) a steady increase in market competitors; and (3) an increase in the number of teachers who enter international education with a master’s degree in hand. Left unattended, any of these mounting challenges could create significant operational problems for IGPE; however, I am confident there is a concise and uncomplicated path to overcoming each challenge, leading to unprecedented success and program growth. Having said this, all of our endeavors are developed and implemented with the interwoven goals of making positive contributions to teaching and learning processes, and in doing so, making the world a better place through education.
In working to achieve this mission, we promote intellectual, scholarly, and professional growth opportunities for educators in PK-12 international schools by facilitating high-quality graduate coursework and credit-bearing workshops in face-to-face, online, and hybrid platforms. In these contexts, IGPE maintains an impressive record for providing advanced studies in educational theory and practice, remaining current on research and technology in the field, celebrating perspective, and promoting global engagement.
As demonstrated, this unique program is not without challenges; however, I remain committed to facilitating student-centered programs that promote diversity, foster inquiry-based learning opportunities, maximize intercultural collaboration for the advancement of society, and provide cutting-edge in-service teacher education across a wide variety of international and intercultural settings.
This article is available and can be accessed in Spanish here.
Deardorff, D. K. (2015). Demystifying outcomes assessment for international educators: A practical approach. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Lovorn, M., Manning, P., & Warsh, M. (2017). Entering a new era in world history education. In M. Lovorn (Ed.), New, critical, and re-envisioned approaches to teaching world history, a special edition of The History Teacher, 50(1).
Participate Global Educators (PGE). (2017). Teaching and assessing global competencies. Retrieved from https://app.participate.com/products/teaching-and-assessing-global-competencies/37266fd7-86b0-40c9-b2c1-7188e0b5dd02
Trilokekar, R. D. & Kukar, P. (2011). Disorienting experiences during study abroad: Reflections of pre-service teacher candidates. Teaching and Teacher Education 27(7), 1141-1150.
ISC Research. (2018). International schools market sees growth and new opportunities this year. Retrieved from https://www.iscresearch.com/news-and-events/isc-news/isc-news-details/~post/international-schools-market-sees-growth-and-new-oppotunities-this-year-20180117