Firstly, many thanks to all the readers and stakeholders who have ‘reached out’ and given valuable feedback after the first installment –The 7 Habits of Elite International Schools in Asia Part 1 – of my series on the habits of EliteInternational Schools in Asia. It was very pleasing to see that my observations resonated with so many and on many different levels of various educational institutions in China and Asia. For those of you wanting to read my stories on Community Service – Community Service in International Schools – and Joint Venture Schools – the New Frontier in China?
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.’
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 SearchAssociates 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 postgraduate 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 everyone in your school know what others roles are, or vice versa? Are there seemingly clandestine meetings happening on a daily basis where you think to yourself ‘I wonder what they are talking about’? A big factor that plays into the effectiveness of transparency is that of school structure, trust and clear lines of reporting. Many China based foreign principals have commented on the tendency to collectivize all school tasks with the Local Boss having final say or ‘sign off’ on said action items. Whilst an efficient and productive method this can also be hazardous in that the experts are not always the ones giving the input that is needed to said areas. One noted that this method witnessed a local employee with no foreign education experience appointed as Head of College Pathways which created strain and tension within the School. Another commented on a local Board Member directly involving themselves in operational staff meetings about curriculum which left a great number of educators confused on many levels. The best schools seem to put great trust in their structures and their appointed staff to make the right call.
Ideally: Clear and stable school structure that emphasizes and explains ‘lines of reporting’ –i.e. who has the final say on work before it is handed onto the next person. Task allocation to the right people. Emphasis on proactivity.
Reality: Constantly changing structure. ‘Flat’ hierarchy. Almost all decisions centralized to the‘Big Boss’. Inefficient, antiquated and unable to deal with fast paced environments. Leads to reactive tendencies.
Staff Wellbeing and Professional Development 员工福利及专业发展
It is amazing how many seemingly wonderful schools have the appearance of a functional family but are anything but once you scratch past the thin surface of a choreographed whole school assembly or event. It is in the recesses of hallways, playground duty conversations or classroom to classroom ‘pop in’s’ that educators will ultimately go home fulfilled or tossing and turning about issues (in)consequential to the task at hand; educating! Openness, harmony, avenues to vent and relevant professional development are the buzzwords I constantly encounter when discussions take place regarding staff recruitment and retention. In a constantly changing and competitive global landscape we encourage our students to be lifelong learners in order to adapt to said environment and yet many complain of inadequate funding, opportunities or endless bureaucracy when applying for said development. Cup of irony, anyone!?
Ideally: Relevant whole school internally and externally sourced PD at least once a Semester plus individual stipends for individual PD workshops (usually external). Weekly staff briefings and staff meetings for staff to troubleshoot and solve problems together. Annual Caps on weekend days for staff work – overtime rates paid for days worked beyond. Incentives for staff undertaking postgraduate studies.
Reality: Next to no meaningful professional development. Forced ‘staff fun days’. Expectations of long working days – and weekends. ‘Quantity over quality’ mentality from Local School management.
Alex has been an educator for almost 20 years. Over half of that time has been spent working outside his native Australia in the UK and the Middle East, including working for international schools or schools that have an ‘international footprint’. His current role is as Founding International Principal of Meisha Academy by Haileybury, in Guangzhou. It is a joint venture school between Haileybury Australia – one of the most academically successful private schools in Australia in recent years – and Vanke Real Estate – a construction giant located in the south of China and comprising over 30000 employees. The school is an inner city Year 9-12 boarding school that will deliver the VCE Curriculum. The school aims to amalgamate the best of Chinese and Western pedagogical practices.