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The International Boys’ Schools Coalition: sharing knowledge and expertise with educators of boys everywhere

| November 7, 2014 | 0 Comments

By Brad Adams

The International Boys’ Schools Coalition (IBSC) grew out of conversations in the early 1990s among the headmasters of a number of boys’ schools in the United States (US) and Canada.

Prominent boys’ schools in the United Kingdom (UK) and Australia soon became involved in this resolution to give boys’ schools a stronger voice and focus for sharing expertise. After more meetings and the first major conferences, the IBSC was formed and announced its mission: “Founded in 1995, the International Boys’ Schools Coalition is a not-for-profit organisation of schools dedicated to the education and development of boys worldwide, the professional growth of those who work with them, and the advocacy and advancement of institutions – primarily schools for boys – that serve them.”

Diversity and the value of single-gender schooling

From the beginning and uniquely so, the founders of the IBSC embraced diversity: independent and state or public schools; day and boarding schools; elementary, secondary and multidivisional schools; and denominational, parochial and secular schools are all welcome as members of the IBSC. The compass, too, was global: boys’ schools across the continents would gain by professional dialogue and fellowship as members of the IBSC.

Through its activities and programmes, the IBSC strives to support and celebrate boys’ schools as learning environments uniquely focused on the achievement, engagement, character and well-being of boys. At a time of concern about international trends in boys’ disengagement from schooling,1 the IBSC believes in the mission and value of single-gender education.

Since its founding, the IBSC has grown steadily, with membership expanding in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and southern Africa, the UK, Spain, Hong Kong, Singapore, India and Japan. In so many ways, the IBSC is a truly global professional learning community – bringing together educators and school leaders everywhere in the development and sharing of best practice in boys’ schools, and in boys’ education in general.

Conferences the core of the IBSC

The flagship of the IBSC programme of services is the annual conference, held in a different region each year and featuring leading experts in boys’ education, along with practitioner workshops and presentations. Since 1994, when the first conference was held, thousands of educators have shared ‘best practices’ at every level and in every dimension of school curricula and programmes.

In July 2015, the 23rd annual conference will be held in Cape Town, in the Western Cape of South Africa. The conference will be hosted at Bishops College, in partnership with other local boys’ schools. We anticipate that more than 500 educators from around the world as well as South Africa will be present for this four-day event.

The IBSC also facilitates speaker tours, local conferences and workshops in the major regions represented by the membership. These are often occasions for in-depth focus on such topics as boys and literacy, the role of sports in boys’ schools, boys’ wellness, boys and technology, and character and honour codes. The IBSC is committed to the expansion of these regional initiatives, which often spark innovative approaches and topics for global collaboration and programmes. It is not an exaggeration to say that every month, somewhere in the world, IBSC member schools are meeting to discuss and share what works especially well to energise teaching and learning in their classrooms.

Always busy with action research

Our aspiration is that that this professional learning and sharing will be based on and inspired by practical, results-driven research. The IBSC models this in its research initiatives. It began in 2005 with an ambitious action research programme exploring and testing best practices. Each year, global teams focus on a question about boys’ learning, and are guided through classroom-based research investigations that yield an unparalleled body of expertise and model reflective practice and collaboration. Over the years, more than 200 teachers have participated in Action Research in Boys’ Schools,2 and their projects have been showcased at annual conferences. Many report that their participation in this programme has been the most transformational experience in their professional careers.

Since 2008, the IBSC has commissioned and published major research projects on best practices for teaching boys. These research initiatives are global, and all the major regions in the IBSC membership are represented. The projects have been collaborative, involving teachers, school leaders and students in research. And in the best sense, these initiatives have been results-oriented, providing research-driven, practical knowledge to inform teaching and programme design.

Zooming in on the inner lives of boys

The first of these large-scale studies was Teaching Boys: A Global Study of Effective Practice, released in 2009 and published by Jossey-Bass as Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys: Strategies That Work – And Why (2010).3 In this work, researchers Michael Reichert and Richard Hawley asked 1 500 teachers and over 2 000 boys from boys’ schools around the world what they considered to be memorably successful lessons and approaches to teaching boys. The data revealed a number of common themes, a rich resource for teachers of boys in all settings. In a second study published in 2011, Locating Significance in the Lives of Boys,4 American psychologist Adam Cox held focus groups in boys’ schools around the world, and probed the spiritual side and inner lives of boys. Listening to boys in this way led to a number of dimensions of significance – “becoming myself ”, “belonging and influence”, “pragmatic transcendence”, “real-time achievement”, and “origins and tradition”.

As a third study, again led by Michael Reichert and Richard Hawley, For Whom the Boy Toils was completed in 2013, and has recently been published by Harvard Educational Press as I Can Learn From You: Boys as Relational Learners.5 Their first project illuminated the crucial importance of positive relationships with teachers as the foundation for motivation and learning. In the follow-up project, boys and teachers in IBSC member schools around the world, including South Africa, were asked about their experiences of positive and negative relationship-building, and the consequences of each for the quality of teaching and learning. Not surprisingly, perhaps, but with remarkable acuity and sensitivity, the researchers created a picture of the strategies good teachers use to build positive learning relationships, and suggested ways in which relational breakdowns can be repaired. The authors also provide schools with a series of recommendations for achieving truly ‘relational schools’ that enable professional conversation and growth in this vital dimension of effective teaching. A fourth project will report later in 2014. The Master Teachers in Boys’ Schools Research Project was prompted by the IBSC’s professional development programme, and in particular by Teachers New to Boys’ Schools conferences held for a number of years in the US. These conferences comprised presentations by expert speakers, interspersed with discussions led by experienced teachers. These seasoned group leaders elicited questions, concerns and uncertainties and, in turn, offered back a tremendous amount of practical insight and advice. We sensed that these ‘master teachers’ were releasing a wealth of expert ‘tacit knowledge’ about educating boys.

Mastery teaching

To deepen this understanding of expertise in teaching boys, the Master Teachers in Boys’ Schools Research Project was designed as an extended action research project. In the first research workshop held in February, 2013 in New York City, highly experienced teachers nominated by the principals of the schools at which they taught were led through a series of activities and writing exercises. These yielded qualitative data about teaching boys, the nature of ‘mastery’ teaching, and the journey along the road to expert performance. The data was analysed by a team of research assistants and, as anticipated, resulted in some exciting findings and suggestions for further study. In 2014, two additional research workshops were held: the first at Eton College in the UK, and the second at Scotch College in Australia. For participants as well as the researchers, the three workshops were energising and rewarding – a source of professional validation and stimulation. We also believe that the report which will emerge from this research will tell us a great deal about a remarkable level of teaching expertise and about how schools can foster true and authentic professional development, as well as taking us into a close look at teaching practices that bring great success in teaching boys.

Conviction overrides tradition

The IBSC fosters networking, partnerships and exchanges among its member schools, and prizes especially the close ties and sense of community fostered by active participation in the organisation. Above all, the IBSC gives voice to the mission at the heart of boys’ schools, which have undergone remarkable change in the past two decades. To a great degree, these schools are no longer just ‘boys’ schools by tradition’. They are now ‘boys’ schools by conviction’ – with confidence in their institutional purpose and effectiveness. Further, they are not schools comprised of boys, but schools for boys – designed in every way to respond to their needs, to harness their potential, and to guide them along the journey towards full and responsible manhood. As mission-driven schools heads, teachers, governors and trustees put this overarching objective as a key instrument on their dashboard of governance overview. And most important of all, the men and women who teach in them are engaged in lively, focused and constant discussion about the best ways to ensure that the mission is advanced. Neither slogan nor relic, the mission statement lives at the heart of a school that is truly for boys.

A leading voice

Entering yet another stage in its maturation and expansion, the IBSC is poised to consolidate and deepen its own purpose, to develop alongside its current global, regional and research programmes a new suite of services for professional development and collaboration across its membership, and to further expand its network of schools in every global region. In the words of its new strategic plan, the IBSC also aims “to be the leading voice in boys’ education worldwide, committed to sharing our knowledge and expertise with educators of boys everywhere”.

1. See, for example: Calderon, V.J. and Lopez, S. (2013) “How America’s boys become psychological dropouts.” Available at:
2013/10/how-americas-boys-become-psychological.html and West, P. (n.d.) “It ain’t cool to like school: why are boys underachieving around the world and what can we do about it?” Available at:
2. See:
3. Hawley, R. and Reichert, M. (2010) Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys: Strategies that Work – and Why. New York: Jossey-Bass.
4. See:
5. Hawley, R. and Reichert, M. (2014) I Can Learn from You: Boys as Relational Learners. Massachusetts: Harvard Educational Press.

Category: Featured Articles, Summer 2014

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