We often look to other industries for inspiration, teachings and guidance about leadership in international schools.

Mckinsey published an interesting article titled:

All change: The new era of perpetual organizational upheaval

“To flourish at a time when massive shifts are shaking their organizations, business leaders need to focus on the “superpowers” of speed, technology, talent, and leadership.”

McKinsey Article

This article was a follow up to its first State of Organizations report, published in April 2023, which highlighted the ten organizational shifts business leaders deem the most significant.

Here, we take a concise look at those shifts and the four “superpowers” that can help leadership for international schools achieve optimal performance.

leadership for international schools

Here is an application to international school leadership with a focus on:

  • Speed
  • Technology
  • Talent
  • Leadership

International Schools’ Need for Speed

Speed in leadership for international schools

In the context of international school leadership, embracing “The Need for Speed” involves fostering a dynamic, responsive, and innovative educational environment. The world is changing fast and the nature of international schools can make these changes even faster. Different student clientele, changing cultural landscapes, socio-economic factors and many other factors create sometimes instant change in different contexts.

Here’s how the principles outlined can be applied to the context of an international school:

  1. Operational Resilience in Education:
    • Prioritize operational resilience in the face of educational challenges and changes.
    • Encourage leaders and educators to quickly adapt to evolving teaching methodologies and educational technologies.
    • Create operations that are not designed only for specific circumstances but also variable and dynamic situations.
  2. Financial Performance and Growth:
    • Implement efficient financial management to support educational initiatives and ensure the school’s financial stability.
    • Foster a culture of continuous growth by rapidly incorporating new educational practices and responding to emerging global trends.
    • Seek out alternative and supplementary revenue sources.
  3. Innovation in Teaching and Learning:
    • Create an environment that values and encourages innovation in teaching methods and curriculum development.
    • Establish cross-functional teams of educators to collaborate on innovative educational projects.
    • Empower teachers to be contrarian, innovative and experimental. There is always another way.
  4. Empowering Stakeholders:
    • Flatten organizational hierarchies to empower teachers, students, and parents in decision-making processes.
    • Clearly define roles and responsibilities, allowing for a more agile response to educational challenges.
    • Authentic devolution can inspire and accelerate innovation.
  5. Efficient Communication:
    • Streamline communication channels to eliminate unnecessary meetings and bureaucracy, allowing educators to focus on effective teaching.
    • Utilize digital communication tools to facilitate quick and effective information sharing among staff, students, and parents.
    • Be ready for the next method or better ways to transmit communication, make decisions and stay cutting edge.
  6. Strategic Operating Model:
    • Regularly assess the effectiveness of the existing educational model, identifying and addressing bottlenecks in communication, collaboration, and administrative processes.
    • Differentiation is core business and not innovation. Operating models must meet the needs of diversity.
    • Consider adopting collaborative networks and self-managing teams to enhance the speed and efficiency of educational initiatives.
  7. Transformational Leadership:
    • Encourage visionary leadership that can quickly adapt to changes in education and global dynamics.
    • Develop a change narrative that aligns with the school’s vision and encourages the school community to embrace and drive positive transformations.
    • Change and transformation bust be driven by empowered leaders within the organisation and not external factors.
  8. Time-Bound Transformation:
    • Recognize that successful educational transformations should occur within a reasonable timeframe, aiming to complete major phases within 18 months rather than the traditional 3-5 year timeframe.
    • Small changes can often be made and obstacles overcome in shorter timeframes, just as we proved during the covid period. Don’t say no. Assume yes and find a way.
    • Set clear end-goals for educational improvements and measure progress regularly.
  9. Value-Driven Approach:
    • Identify and unlock trapped value within the educational system, addressing bottlenecks such as isolated functional groups, incompatible systems, and complex administrative processes.
    • Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of the educational operating model and be willing to make necessary adjustments for continuous improvement. What works, what doesn’t and why.
    • Align all decisions to guding questions that reflect your vision and mission.

Michael Fullan is an expert in change management in schools and he never said:

1. Don’t change too much, or

2. Don’t change fast.

He said things like:

“The ‘speed of quality change’ can be greatly accelerated by leaders working across the system. “

“Leaders ……. should look for and learn from examples of high quality change that show substantial improvement in fairly short periods of time.”

Michael Fullan

( Source: Reflections on the Change Leadership Landscape )

By applying these principles, an international school can cultivate a culture of agility, innovation, and collaboration, ensuring that it remains well-prepared for the challenges and opportunities in the rapidly changing landscape of global education.

Empowering Education with Human and Technological Collaboration

Technology and leadership for international schools

Since the introduction of cutting-edge educational technologies, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT generative AI, education institutions, including international schools, have been immersed in discussions about the transformative potential of these technologies in classrooms and administrative offices. The ability of large-scale language models, like ChatGPT, to sift through vast amounts of educational data has opened up possibilities for enhancing various aspects of the educational experience.

International schools can leverage these technological advancements to personalize teaching methodologies, create engaging content for students through platforms like social media, and streamline administrative processes such as operational execution and record-keeping. Additionally, these AI tools can prove invaluable in the realm of education by efficiently extracting relevant information from extensive volumes of content.

While these technologies have the potential to simulate human behavior closely and may raise questions about role displacement, their true power lies in collaboration with human input. The symbiotic relationship between AI and human intervention can augment the capabilities of educators, enabling them to deliver educational content more efficiently and effectively. This collaborative approach mirrors the historical pattern of technological advancements working hand-in-hand with human efforts, from the industrial revolution with the steam engine to the era of personal computers.

Adopting these technological changes necessitates corresponding shifts in organizational culture. Even before the emergence of advanced AI in education, institutions were recognizing the value of applied AI as a tool for building better educational environments, especially online. The integration of AI has the potential to revolutionize various aspects of education management, from budgeting and time tracking to creating innovative learning experiences.

However, a fundamental question persists:

How can international schools embed AI and other advanced technologies into their educational culture successfully?

The answer lies in cultivating a perpetual learning culture. Educational institutions must exhibit the flexibility to redesign teaching roles and adapt to evolving technologies, ensuring that they harness the full potential of these tools. Those schools reporting the highest success in integrating AI are nearly three times more likely to invest in capability-building programs, including experiential learning, self-directed online courses, and certification programs for educators and technical staff alike. This commitment to ongoing learning is pivotal in preparing the education workforce for the challenges and opportunities presented by AI and other technological advancements.

Empowering Every Educator: Prioritizing Talent and Leadership for International Schools

Leadership for international schools

With any form of comprehensive transformation, Human resource (talent) related challenges take center stage. This is especially true in the field of education, as having the right talent in the right roles, driven by motivation and incentives, is indispensable for success. Without a dedicated focus on talent, even the most innovative educational models may falter. Anecdotal evidence suggest that many educational institutions do not currently possess the full capabilities they need. Don’t be distracted by the narrative that many teachers cant find the right appointments. International educational leaders are having increased challenges finding the right type and quality of teachers for their curriculum and context.

While much attention is often directed towards frontline educators and those identified as high-potential, it is imperative not to overlook the often ‘forgotten’ contributors – the ambitious and hard-working individuals throughout the organization, particularly in middle management. These educators play a significant role in shaping the educational environment and, therefore, should not be underestimated in the talent equation.

I have always believe the most powerful agents of change in secondary schools are the Heads of Departments or Subject Heads. In Primary and Elementary schools it is curriculum and team leaders of grade levels or other key groups. They are at the coal face and they are in the classrooms. They are with with colleagues in staff rooms and they are connected socially. If you want to make something happen they are the ones who will drive this.

Greg Parry GSE CEO

Ensuring sustained motivation across all levels of the international school requires a nuanced approach. School leaders must move beyond concentrating solely on retaining and incentivizing top-performing educators. It necessitates a thorough review and refinement of employee value propositions tailored to address the diverse needs of everyone within the institution. This includes those in middle management, who often seek fulfillment in different aspects of their roles.

At the core of a compelling employee value proposition in an international school context are considerations such as contributing to a vibrant educational community (reflecting the school’s culture, values, and societal impact), being guided by inspirational leadership, enjoying a fulfilling role (access to coaching, mentorship, and continuous learning opportunities), and reaping meaningful rewards (acknowledgment for outstanding contributions).

Drawing inspiration from best practices, such as the Danish toy maker Lego, international schools can adopt inclusive policies to support their workforce.

  1. Professional Development Opportunities:
    • Provide continuous professional development opportunities for teachers and staff. This can include workshops, conferences, and training programs that enhance their skills and keep them engaged in their roles.
    • Support educators in pursuing advanced degrees or certifications, showcasing a commitment to their growth within the academic field.
    • Create a regular schedule whereby teacher leaders share within and between colleagues. This creates a healthy culture of development, collaboration and self improvement.
  2. Positive Work Environment:
    • Foster a positive and inclusive work culture. Encourage teamwork, open communication, and collaboration among staff members.
    • Implement initiatives that promote a healthy work-life balance, such as flexible schedules, wellness programs, and employee support services.
    • Naturally, social events enhance a positive work environment but there are many other ways that you can create this authentically.
  3. Competitive Compensation and Benefits:
    • Ensure that salaries are competitive within the education industry and the region. Regularly review compensation packages to align with market standards.
    • Provide comprehensive benefits, including health insurance, retirement plans, and other perks that contribute to the overall well-being of staff.
    • Structure packages carefully in ways that recognise what you care most about. It is not just the salary amount. The whole picture is important.
  4. Recognition and Appreciation Programs:
    • Establish a robust recognition program to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements and contributions of teachers and staff.
    • Recognize milestones, both professional and personal, through ceremonies, awards, or other forms of acknowledgment to make employees feel valued and appreciated.
    • Do it informally and authentically as well. The routine recognitions can become mechanical and less sincere if completed in too much of a routine.
  5. Leadership Development and Career Growth:
    • Offer leadership development programs to encourage career growth within the organization. This can include mentorship programs, leadership training, and opportunities for staff to take on additional responsibilities.
    • Clearly communicate career advancement paths and provide a roadmap for professional growth within the international school.

By implementing these strategies, international schools can create a supportive and fulfilling environment that not only attracts but also retains talented educators and staff. This, in turn, contributes to the school’s reputation and success in providing quality education.

Transformative Leadership for International Schools

Education Management

Greg Parry and Shanna Parry – Very Focussed on Leadership for International Schools

The question of who qualifies as a “leader” is undergoing a profound shift, particularly within the landscape of international schools. In their article McKinsey refers to institutions like Decathlon, the world’s largest sporting goods retailer, or Mars, a leading US consumer goods giant—here, the definition of a leader is broad, often encompassing anyone who takes the initiative to guide. Even for those fitting more traditional leadership roles, the boundaries are evolving. Educational leaders must transcend the role of mere managers focused on incremental improvements and instead become visionaries, imbued with the courage to craft a purpose and envision and pursue the future. A special and unique form of leadership for international schools is a key priority for transformation.

Authenticity has become the cornerstone. Today’s educational leaders are expected to present not just as professionals but as authentic human beings. The antiquated hierarchies of the past are dissolving, replaced by networks of autonomous teams collaborating in a coordinated, not controlled, environment. Deep strategic thinking, exploration, and social connection have become the new guiding principles in educational leadership. For instance, at Mars, during a restructuring of its divisions, the company engaged junior managers several levels down, recognizing that the hierarchical structures of the past are no longer relevant in the educational realm. This can easily happen in schools where younger teachers can adopt leadership of projects related to curriculum and other co-curricular initiatives.

The superpower of transformative leadership for international schools lies in making leadership and change deeply personal. True transformation in education occurs when individuals, including educators and students, genuinely want and decide to embrace change. Educational organizations must provide leaders and participants the space to explore proposed changes and understand how these changes align with their values and behaviors. Taking inspiration from models like Lego’s “Leadership Playground,” international schools can create environments where everyone feels heard, contributing, respected, and valued. Within this metaphorical playground, educators and staff can voluntarily lead groups focused on various aspects, including employee health and well-being, innovation, and creativity.

Self-reflection emerges as a critical tool. Educational leaders must engage in introspection, asking themselves and others, “What actions or inactions have contributed to the current educational environment, and what role do we play in fostering change?” This shift towards a more inclusive, exploratory, and personally connected leadership style is integral to the evolving landscape of leadership for international schools.

If you want to learn more about the steps required to set up a school check out some of our other articles:

Steps to Setting Up a New School

10 Steps and Articles on How to Set Up a New School

GSE International School Franchise Models

GSE provide specialist services to set up all forms of education institutions including international schools, kindergartens, vocational colleges, universities and online/virtual schools.

GSE have previously operated, or currently operate projects, in the following locations:

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CEO and Education Expert Greg Parry

Greg Parry

Internationally renowned for his expertise in education leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for education institutions throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education in 2015 and 2016.

Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these discipline.

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