By Gráinne O’ Reilly- Founding Principal at Foshan EtonHouse International School, China.
As I sat down to write this piece it occurred to me that a number of leaders; Heads and Principals, will be counting down over the next few weeks to the opening day of their international start-up. This might be their first start-up in the international world or they may, indeed, be veterans in the field of start-up. Some will be feeling confident, prepared, calm and ready for the challenge of the coming year and beyond. Most, however (please trust me on this!) , will not be feeling any of those sublime or satisfying emotions. Instead, they will be wondering how on earth everything is going to get done by the end of August, whether anything they have ordered will actually arrive, why no one told them about the inspection that has been scheduled for tomorrow morning, what they are going to do about the two key members of staff who have now decided not to come, why the lavatories on the second floor always manage to flood despite countless visits from the plumber and what the children will be eating on the first day having had to return the first month’s menu to the supposedly experienced international food company who gave assurances that their menu was nut-free, sensitive to the school’s many ethnic groups and fully capable of a true vegetarian option. If you are facing any, or indeed, all of these dilemmas – and more- then this letter is for you. Read it now, keep it, and read it again whenever things become a little overwhelming or when you simply need someone to remind you that you’ve got this.
My Dear Colleague,
Welcome to your international start-up. You have been chosen for this incredible adventure because you are a pioneer. You are a visionary who can not only see where you want to go and what you want to achieve, but you can inspire others to adopt, support, share and work towards that vision, whilst contributing their own talents, passions, skills and enthusiasm. You are a leader who is practical, knowledgeable, experienced, insightful, creative, positive; showing emotional fortitude in every situation – whether receiving the greatest accolades or news of an impending disaster. You are compassionate, realistic, honest, principled, inclusive and capable of making decisions at all levels. Your sense of humour and appreciation of the ridiculous will not be dulled by the myriad roles and responsibilities that you have found yourself embroiled in, but will allow you to laugh out loud even on the most challenging of days.
Many experienced leaders, professionals, books, podcasts and courses will be able to offer you excellent, practical advice and help with your never-ending lists of questions. Questions that at this point, you do not even know you will need to ask. Seek them out, lean on them, stay open-minded and humble- there is much still to learn and one of the things that you will reflect upon at this point next year- will be how much you have grown and developed- not only as a leader and an educator, but as a person.
In the meantime, I want to say to you ( as I know you don’t have much time and those pesky second floor lavatories are still not fixed and the site manager is waiting for your decision on what to try next)- BELIEVE what I have written. You are all those things. You will prevail. You will be successful; deliveries do come, menus are sorted- no one goes hungry. Take time to reflect at the end of each day and jot down what happened- good, bad, frustrating and wonderful. Sleep. Eat well. Be honest with those who love you. Be kind to those around you- they will remember these days of preparation and they will take their lead from you. They will remember your support, your laughter and your belief in them no matter how trying the situation.
Be positive, practical, honest, yet optimistic with those who have employed you and to whom you answer. Great communication, clarity of thought, problem solving , comprehensive reporting, and a can-do attitude go a long way towards reassuring investors, owners, boards and all those who made the decision to entrust this project to your unique leadership.
This will be an exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating, illuminating, trying, brilliant experience unlike any other in the world of school leadership. Savour both the positives and the not-so – positives, remember why you wanted to take on this fabulous challenge and never lose sight of the vision you have and hold to be true. You are the right person for this – you are in the right place, at the right time and you not only can, but WILL do this.
I send you my best and fondest wishes- and in advance, my sincere congratulations on all that you will achieve.
Gráinne O’Reilly is Founding Principal at Foshan EtonHouse International School, China.
She has been involved in the founding of thirteen international schools across the world and is Co-Author of the upcoming book ‘Starting Your International School – How to Build a Successful Sustainable School’.
To connect with her on LinkedIn, click HERE