Education Opinion

Canadian in Paris: The Life and Work of an International Educator

By Tom Vander Ark — January 10, 2018 3 min read

After growing up in Nova Scotia, Daniel Kerr made the expensive decision to attend college in Maine. To pay off some of his student debt, Kerr took a teaching post in Abu Dhabi for the attractive salary and housing stipend. During his first break, he realized that international travel was a big bonus of teaching at an international school.

Kerr met a counselor in Abu Dhabi, who ironically was from the same part of Nova Scotia, who became his wife. They accepted positions at the Jakarta International School, a well-regarded school where they taught for seven years.

In Jarkarta, Kerr met Tim Stuart (featured in this report on the Singapore American School, now head of school in Addis Ababa), and learned about the importance of professional learning communities.

Now a decade into his teaching career, Kerr was hooked as an international educator. He accepted a leadership role at a large middle school in the heart of Shanghai, a diverse and inclusive school with students from 65 countries.

Check out Dan’s Shanghai Tedx Talk on Living a Life Well Lived.

After four years in China, Kerr took the opportunity to lead an intermediate school in Quito, Ecuador. And after three years there, he became lower school director at the American School of Paris (ASP).

Sound crazy? Kerr’s journey is not unusual for an international educator. Each post was an important developmental stage, an opportunity for growth and contribution. Like the intentional leadership development in the military--each stage added breadth and responsibility. Kerr (@DanKerr1) speaks five languages. His children, age 10 and 12, have visited two dozen countries. He is a thoughtful educator and citizen of the world.

American school, an international community

Mark Ulfers leads the first American school in Europe. The American School of Paris (@asparisofficial), founded in 1946, serves 780 students ranging from preschool through 12th grade.

About four in 10 students are children of US expats. The rest are international students and children of French parents interested in attending a US university.

The leadership team is adopting broader measures of success, supporting more student-centered learning experiences, and striving to make the campus even more inclusive.

Middle School Director Jeff Lippman (@jefflippman) showcases design studios and projects in 1:1 classrooms that promote creativity, innovation and connected learning. Middle-grade students are beginning to build portfolios and lead parent conferences.

Kerr observed creativity, imagination and problem solving during a third-grade lesson on invisible forces.

He explained: design challenges plus projects plus maker plus service learning prepare young people to be citizens of the world.

Three new buildings expand student opportunity this year on the ASP campus, and a new high school features an IB Diploma Programme.

In addition to being a pathway to American universities, ASP offers a more progressive option than the very traditional French schools. Lippman admits that the master schedule offers challenges like design studio versus choir. “Balance is key,” he adds.

Kerr is only six months into the lower school assignment. He is supporting professional learning communities. He writes thoughtful reflections in his Monday Musings Blog and contributes to The International Educator.

Key Takeaways:

[2:09] Daniel’s background: where he went to school, how he got to Abu Dhabi, how he made the move from Abu Dhabi to Jakarta and met his wife, meeting Tim Stuart, his first school leadership role in China, and his move to Ecuador.
[7:29] The languages Daniel has basic proficiency in and what life is like as an international educator.
[8:59] The opportunities presented to Daniel’s kids as an international educator.
[10:00] Where Daniel calls home.
[10:25] Daniel describes some of the best teaching conditions he’s seen in international schools.
[12:00] Goals and challenges in international learning.
[14:50] What it is like leading an international school; the turnover rate and creating a cohesive plan and team.[16:18] The education needed for the parental community.
[18:45] What the American School of Paris is trying to improve on.
[21:03] What the ASParis design thinking labs are about.
[21:54] Their goals, curricular wise.
[22:19] What American educators should know about international educators.
[23:52] What Daniel has learned about America.

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The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.