Kimberly Cullen

Kimberly Cullen

Madrid, Spain

I am a thoughtful and committed educator, a third culture kid, a writer, a mentor and a counselor/coach with twenty three years of experience in international education. I care deeply about young people and how they learn and grow, and about how leaders lead. I feel strongly that a one-size-fits all education is outdated and that schools must change. I support developing education leaders, including, and especially, women.

A couple of years ago, I posted an article on LinkedIn called “The Need for Authentic Learning”. As a high school principal with over twenty years of experience in international education and in the midst of driving serious change at our school (standards-based learning, a focus on PBL and inquiry, greater emphasis on student choice and voice), I was also going through a transformation of my own. I realized that the more I learned about education, and the more I learned about the kind of leader I wanted to be, the less comfortable I felt watching things happen that I knew were no longer conducive to learning or good for kids. While some received my article with excitement, I received an email from one teacher who had read it suggesting that I take the article down since it seemed to have offended some of his colleagues. I was surprised at the request and re-read the article.

I realized that the only teachers who would be upset were ones who were stuck in traditional teacher-centered instruction. I was encouraging teachers to think out of the box, to recognize that students are not being engaged by textbooks and lectures, and to find ways to incorporate more meaningful, real-life challenges into their planning. Determined to make a point, but also determined not to ruffle too many feathers at once because that would only serve to push those who needed to change further away, I softened parts of the article which might have come across as slightly too challenging and reposted. But the experience stayed with me and over time, I grew frustrated with others who either could not or would not see the vision. I found myself wanting to dig my heels in and push through, despite others’ inability to see what was actually needed.

As a leader, I recognized that I had to get through to people, yet I also know I wasn’t going to be able to do it alone. I started writing more and found that when I published my ideas on Linked In or other online education magazines, people responded. As an aspiring innovator in a fairly traditional community, I sometimes felt isolated, and found myself connecting with other like-minded professionals on LinkedIn and Twitter. I also realized that after twenty years in the same school, it was time for me to move on. Through my research, I learned about other schools like Green School or THINK Global School, I came into contact with organizations like WomenEd, HundrED and Learnlife, and I started following innovators like John Moravec. I found myself gravitating toward two main priorities in education - the need to better prepare young people for an unpredictable future in which those who are innovative and enterprising, flexible and creative, and compassionate and authentic will be the ones who thrive, and the need for courageous and thoughtful leadership in education. The latter priority involves bridging the gender gap that exists at the top levels of leadership around the world.

During the 2020-2021 school year, I will be taking a sabbatical during which I will focus on my writing, get involved with regional conferences, lead additional webinars, and will engage in consulting and coaching with educators and leaders. I am currently co-authoring an anthology for women leaders and aspiring leaders in education, and have a couple of additional writing projects on the horizon. I will also be exploring other ways that I can bring people together to think creatively and continue to make waves in education.

Why do you want to be a part of the HundrED Community?

 I love the work that HundrED does, celebrating the innovations that are making real waves in education.  These are authentic, ground-level changes that reinforce the need for more strategic changes overall.   If together we can make enough waves,  then the world will begin to finally feel the seismic shift in the what and how of learning that is so badly needed for our future.  

How can education support students to flourish?

Education is everything.  It is the key to empowerment, to change, to advancement, to evolution.  With the acquisition of knowledge and skills as a backdrop, schools have a responsibility to help students learn, to find their own strengths and passions, to be creative and adaptable, to engage, to innovate, to collaborate, to care, to act.  Education paves the way for both confidence and humility and it is the one thing that can help correct the mistakes of the past so that our world has a better future. 

What role does innovation play in education change?

Innovation is hope. It means that change is real and possible.  Innovation is how we evolve, overcome challenge and adjust to uncertainty.  Making innovation a natural part of education ensures that young people are creative and adaptable, that they are risk takers who embrace failure as a necessary step in the direction of doing things better.