by Saira Bano – Founder/PYP Coordinator of The Peace Attitude Schools.
Having had the privilege to work in various cultures and countries as a teacher, mentor, presenter, and since 2019 also a school founder, I have been able to gain insight into the common challenges that come with leadership, especially in international school contexts which have a more complex and diverse range of needs. Not only do school leaders have to manage the expectations of their school communities, they also need to tackle the complexities of an extensive variety of nationalities, each with its own distinct understanding and expectations of education. Consequently, navigating such a multifaceted context can be quite a challenge.
What’s in the mindset?
As an international school teacher and founder, I have observed that the beliefs, educational background, and mindset of teachers, parents, and leaders profoundly impact the academic environment and practices in international schools. From professional competencies to beliefs about direct transmission versus constructivist practices, and a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset these factors heavily influence a school’s instructional culture. Although schools have been making efforts to provide professional development opportunities to help educators reflect on their practices and gain new perspectives, not all teachers are able to seize such opportunities due to their pre-existing beliefs and attitudes. Despite schools’ attempts to alter these beliefs and attitudes, the desired outcomes can be hard to achieve. Staffroom conversations often reveal that many teachers revert to their default practices stemming from their beliefs and mindset. Consequently, additional strategies may be necessary to bring about meaningful change.
Dealing with parents from different backgrounds in international schools can also be a great challenge to leaders. While parental involvement is important to children’s educational growth, there are several factors that can prevent parents from offering the necessary help. These include time constraints, level of education, cultural expectations, unfamiliarity with the international curriculum, and escalating academic demands. On the other hand, too much parental involvement can also be detrimental to the learning process, by restricting room for mistakes, creativity, and exploration. Furthermore, expat and local parents may have vastly different expectations of what education should look like. Ultimately, although challenging, leaders must strive to create a balance between parental involvement and student autonomy.
I often ponder if, as leaders, we are doing enough to support and work with teachers and families to build an understanding of international education. Are we making adequate efforts to ensure that our community is well-informed and engaged? Can we truly glean a teacher’s mindset during a 30–40-minute interview? Furthermore, what is the best approach to recruiting the best team for an international school? How do we put together a diverse group of people and still achieve a shared sense of purpose?
What can leaders do to help change the mindset?
Leaders are constantly striving to create a harmonious and healthy school environment by promoting collaboration between all stakeholders. While there is no one definite solution to the issues at hand, it is wonderful to see most leaders are continuously researching and innovating in order to foster an atmosphere of respect and trust amongst all stakeholders. As a leader, I have learned that consistency is the key to success; if we plan to achieve something, we must remain consistent in our efforts and ensure that the administration and staff are operating as a unified unit. Moreover, it is important to ensure that everyone interprets, applies and enforces the rules in the same consistent manner, in order to avoid any potential confusion. I strive to create greater connections between educators, families, and communities to ensure that our students have access to the best resources and opportunities for success in a globalized world. To achieve this, I have implemented strategies such as encouraging open communication between staff and families, providing resources and different platforms to help families understand the importance of international education, organizing workshops for parents, Coffee Mornings, Silver Fridays to engage the senior citizens, etc. These activities have brought about a shift in attitudes among both parents and teachers, deepening their understanding of educational needs. Additionally, I have fostered meaningful professional activities on the school level, such as fostering collaboration between teams, building professional learning communities, encouraging Three-way Partnership (parents, teachers and administration), and evaluating working conditions regularly, all of which have contributed to the overall success of the school. These activities not only shape the school climate, ethos and culture, but also have a direct and indirect impact on student learning.
Saira Bano is a Founder/PYP Coordinator International Education Consultant, School Startups Designer/Initiator and Instructional Leader & Mentor. She is currently based in Pakistan.
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