Dal Sohi is passionate about putting students at the center of all decision-making. He has been a teacher and school leader for over three decades spanning four countries. After 35 years of experience in education, Dal retired in June of 2021 to begin a new career that will continue to serve schools and students in a new role. He now shares his extensive experience and skills with schools around the world through his newly launched consulting agency, K-12 Education Solutions.
Dal was born and raised in British Columbia, Canada, but now considers himself to be a global citizen. He speaks four languages (English, French, Punjabi and Mandarin) and has traveled to over 50 countries in his quest to understand and live the principles of international mindedness. In 2003, Dal embarked on a journey alongside his family to discover the world through his career in education. That journey took him from his position as a principal of a dual-language elementary school in British Columbia to Atlanta International School in Atlanta, Georgia, which was an International Baccalaureate School offering a bilingual program in four different languages. Dal remained there for seven years—first as the Head of Primary School, then as the Head of Curriculum and Professional Development K-12 —until he decided that he wanted to look abroad for a new adventure. He found his next position at the International School of Beijing as that institution’s Head of Elementary, where he spent three years. Following his time in China’s capital, Sohi was ready to seek out yet another new adventure and accepted the challenge of being Head of School at the Alexander Dawson School in Las Vegas, Nevada. Committed to keep learning and growing, he then moved to Dubai as the Head of School position at another IB school, Dar Al Marefa, before concluding a remarkable 35-year career at Chadwick School in Palos Verdes, California.
Dal holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology, a Master’s degree in Education, and an Educational Specialist’s degree in Instructional Leadership. He has a comprehensive understanding of all educational and logistical elements of school operation through roles as a Head of School, Principal, and Head of Curriculum and Professional Development. Beyond the school level, his leadership experience includes three years as President of a 50 member Principals and Vice-Principals Association. During his years as a school leader, he has participated on accreditation teams in six countries and four continents. Under his leadership at Atlanta International School, the National Association of Independent Schools recognized the primary division for Innovation in Curriculum Design. After gaining a worldwide perspective of best educational practices, Dal is excited to share his training and experience with schools around the globe.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
I have been fortunate to work with teachers from more than 30 countries around the world and experience education through multiple lenses. I have learned from each of them and have a vast array of strategies and perspectives that I have added to my ‘toolkit’ over the past 35 years. I have worked with curricula from around the world and my experience with accrediting schools has furthered my knowledge base. I felt that it was time for me to offer my skills and knowledge to schools that seek an external and unbiased view of their strengths and areas for growth.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day is highly varied, but I can break it down into three general categories. The first is that I continue to follow current research. I keep up with best practices, and make sure that I stay apprised of recent developments on the educational landscape. I have 35 years of experience, but that’s a foundation, not a substitute for staying current and growing my knowledge and skill base. Second, I’m always communicating with the schools that I work with, to make sure that their needs are being met. I don’t believe in ‘one-shot’ school improvement practices. School improvement is an ongoing process, so it’s important for me to stay involved and help them navigate any challenges they face. The third thing that I work on is developing a variety of topics for presentations that schools request. These are typically school specific, but some examples are Building Global Citizens, Navigating Parenting Challenges in a Changing World, and Meet Me in the Middle: Putting Students at the Center. I am very passionate about speaking in schools to audiences ranging from students to parents to teachers.
How do you bring ideas to life?
For me, it all starts with creating student-focused schools. We have to make sure that we understand how to create an ecosystem that supports learning, wellness, and connectedness. As the world has evolved around us, education hasn’t entirely kept pace. Many schools are still primarily teacher centered. Teachers talk, students listen, and there’s only one voice at a time for much of the lesson. For the most part, students are still required to be more focused on the teacher than on each other. I am working to help schools understand that students must be treated as partners in the learning process. There needs to be a balance of power and a co-constructing of knowledge and understanding. Student-focused schools ensure that there are multiple opportunities for students to engage with each other as well as the teacher. My job is to assist schools in creating protocols to help them evaluate how well they are progressing toward this goal.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’ve been in leadership positions at three bilingual schools. One of the most exciting aspects of my work is helping schools that want to make the transition to a dual-language education model. At the three bilingual schools I have worked at, students only learn in English half of the time. And yet, all three of those schools easily outperform peer schools where students learn in English 100% of the time. It surprises me how few schools take advantage of this huge ‘value added’ element. Bilingual education is unique in that it allows students to capture metacognitive benefits that simply can’t be replicated in single-language instruction.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Always keeping my eye on the ball and really paying attention to what matters most. What matters most, in my field, is the student experience. That includes their learning, their social wellbeing, and making sure that their mind, body, and heart are all being engaged in meaningful ways.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to be open to learning from every experience that comes your way, whether that experience is positive or negative, because every experience is a teachable moment. Never stop learning.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Learning is not linear. While most curricula are built in a linear fashion, today’s students are more questioning and want to be part of the learning process. They do not see learning as straight line; rather, they see a series of smaller learnings that eventually connect to the bigger educational outcome.
I’ll use an analogy to explain what I mean by that. Think about learning as a jigsaw puzzle. When I went to school, in a traditional learning environment, we were taught to find the corner and edge pieces of the puzzle first. You would form the frame first to get an idea of the overall shape and size of the puzzle, and then fill in the rest of the pieces from there. You worked from the outside in. Today’s learners don’t learn that way. To keep them engaged, we need to let them see the picture inside the picture. Start by trying to form the picture in the puzzle first, try to get an idea of what you’re building, and then build out from there toward the corner and the edge pieces. Today’s learners learn from the inside out. The beauty of this approach is that learning can expand beyond the borders if there are no preconceived limits in place.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Take time for reflection. I think our deepest learning comes from reflection, but sometimes, in our busy daily lives, we don’t take the time we need. And it is in those quieter moments of reflection that we really consolidate our learning. I’m also a big believer that writing is an important part of reflection. If you think about it, listening and reading are passive activities, but speaking and writing are active behaviors that engage your brain more fully. So, in putting your thoughts down on paper, you are making sure that reflection happens in an active manner.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
One of my strategies is that I’m focused not only on the US educational landscape, but on the worldwide landscape. One thing I’ve learned from my experience in international schools is that, when you have teachers from all over the world, they tend to bring in the best parts of their educational systems and create a sort of synergy. I have often had 20 to 30 countries represented in my schools, with each of those people having been trained in different pedagogies and having worked in different ways in their own countries. When you bring such a wide range of experiences together, it really shows that no one person can be fully equipped to fill in a complete picture. It allows everyone to challenge each other’s assumptions and helps them maintain their focus on the student experience. And, it really takes the learning to a different level. That’s the experience that I’m trying to bring to schools. I continue to stay current with what is happening globally, so I can bring the best strategies in the world to my practice. I want to help schools be the best they can be—not just the best schools in their state or country, but the best schools in the world.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Schools tend to have a lot of inertia. It can be difficult to convince a school to challenge the status quo, to understand that ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough anymore in our global, interconnected world. The first steps in building that momentum are the hardest, and it takes a lot of heavy lifting. That initial resistance can come from parents, or from the school board, or from teachers, and each scenario requires its own approach. Regardless, it’s important to overcome that resistance while keeping our focus on the students.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
We’re living in an increasingly interconnected world. If you can come up with a service or a product that capitalizes on global trends, that is the future.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I took a hockey lesson last week. I’ve been focusing on wellness and doing what I love, and with that in mind, I wanted to do something that’s going to impact my wellness into the foreseeable future. Ice hockey is something that I never got to play as a kid, so as an adult learner, it seemed like a good choice.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I can’t narrow it down to just one piece of software because it is important for me to use whichever platform my clients are most comfortable with, but I rely heavily on tools that allow me to reach out and collaborate with people across the world. Teleconferencing tools, like Microsoft Teams and Zoom, are common options. I believe that real-time communication and being able to hold a face-to-face conversation with people from around the world is essential.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recommend The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined by Salman Khan. This book was written by the founder of the renowned Khan Academy, which is basically an online training service housed on YouTube that provides free, world-class education and training sessions in almost any subject one can imagine. Among the many topics explored in the book is exactly how the traditional, top-down teacher lecturing model of education was conceived in Prussia centuries ago, then gradually adopted and put into widespread use around the world, and why that model is broken and no longer serving the best interests of students or teachers.
What is your favorite quote?
“We must educate people in what nobody knew yesterday, and prepare in our schools for what no one knows yet but for what people must know tomorrow.” — Margaret Mead
That’s the challenge we face as educators, isn’t it? We have to prepare students for their world, not ours, but we have no idea what that world will look like. A student entering kindergarten today probably won’t retire until somewhere around 2080. It’s no longer useful to focus on teaching discrete facts and skills—we can’t teach what they can easily look up on their phones and tablets. Instead, we have to teach those skills that transcend, that are trans-disciplinary, and engage them at a metacognitive level.
- Never stop learning. Prior experience, no matter how extensive, is no substitute for continued education and working to remain current in your field.
- Focus on strategies that will prepare students for the future, instead of getting stuck in strategies that worked in the past.
- Every experience, good or bad, is an opportunity to learn and to teach.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.