The 7 Habits of Elite International Schools in Asia
By Alexander Paltos at Meisha Academy by Haileybury
Like most living things in this world, companies, like people, are creatures of habit. International schools are no exception. For some cultural context, our local search engine (Bing) defines habits as a ‘settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.’
像世界上大多数生物一样，公司和人一样，都是习惯的产物。国际学校也不例外。对于某些文化背景，我们的本地搜索引擎( Bing )将习惯定义为“固定的或固定的趋势或行为，尤其是难以放弃的那种。”
The implication from the second half of this definition is what should be most worrying for any schools in Asia aspiring to become international ones, especially for new ones. Like children, how new schools react to new stimuli and situations greatly determines patterns of behavior that are extremely hard to break the longer they are in existence.
Every year I attend the Search Associates Leadership Fair in Bangkok. It is a great sounding board for affairs at my own School, a wonderful networking exercise, as well as a unique way of canvassing feedback, theories and data for my ongoing PhD at Monash University. (For many of you also on this path of post graduate studies, you also know full well the benefits of this different stimuli – read holiday – on the academic brain!)
In my various conversations and observations with these leaders over the last few years plus existing ones in other school models across Australia, China, Asia and beyond, the same themes keep emerging in broader contexts. It is no coincidence that the ‘best’ schools – by any metric you care to use – have these in common.
The following is by no means an exhaustive list but one which warrants further exploration in its own right. For now, and for the purposes of this article, aspiring school leaders and stakeholders can use this a ‘crash course’ or International School CPR checklist.
Does the mission and vision align with the everyday practice seen in and out the classroom?
Are you doing what it says ‘on the tin’? A fellow International Principal laughs when he recalls a moment in a heavily marketed bilingual ‘international’ school in the south of China when the Chief (and local) Principal’s talked of the vision for their school being that of said bilingual international school, when neither they nor anyone else in the School Executive Team spoke a word of English nor had any international school experience (inside or outside of China). Does this seem like alignment to you?
Ideally: Mission and Vision should be seen in action in everything the school does. From the classroom to social justice efforts.
Reality: Major disconnect between mission, vision and value statements and daily operations.
An overused word but one which keeps popping up and is even more relevant when dealing with intercultural environments of international schools. Bottom up channels of communication have become almost more important than the traditional ‘top down’ structures in Chinese schools as they pose a challenge to the prevailing Chinese corporate hierarchy of bosses assuming absolute deity-like reign. Feedback also plays a critical role in the positive growth of any organization. Messengers should not be shot – please refer to the English colloquial expression ‘shoot the messenger’ (!) – but encouraged in order for schools to streamline and refine their practices to appease all stakeholders. This is very poignant in consideration of local schools that employ foreign staff, especially in leadership positions. Expected formats and behavioral conventions for School Executive meetings can also be very different in China (and Japan) to other foreign countries and senior educators need to be aware of this. Best intentions to be engaged and voicing opinions in said scenarios can lead to undesired and/or unintended repercussions, perceptions and offense.
Ideally: Clear communication channels for all staff – in either direction, vertically and horizontally – with avenues for constructive feedback. Staff (and student) empowerment by anonymous voting on contentious school governance issues.
Reality: Climate of fear and apprehension for local staff if they disagree with ‘the Big Boss’. No legitimate arenas for feedback in order to effect meaningful change, especially for foreign staff.