Understanding the Importance of Family Partnerships in Leading Your International School

by Nicolas Belcher

Context: The topic of this overarching article and the potential expansion of understanding the importance of partnerships in an International school context continues to enrich, concern, and delight with further introspection. This article is a very brief hook to provide those engaging in their first pathway to International leadership, those in the throes of romancing their new partnerships, and hopefully a reminder for those who have been on the journey for some time of negating the wonders and impact of family partnerships when leading your international school. 
Partnerships in education come in all forms. Each time a new one is forged, we have to be mindful that it will nearly always have an impact that can hopefully be meaningful, but if not managed well, will send resounding ripples of negativity across your community. A personal insight into partnerships can often realise that swapping the term ‘partnership’ for ‘friend-raising’ or ‘relationship’ can highlight its efficacy in practice. Equally for this purpose, throughout this article, you will find the terms ‘partnership’ and ‘relationship’ are interchangeable. It is also worth reminding ourselves, in this context, when I talk about ‘your’ school, I really mean Your school; the name of the public inn may be “The Boathouse”, but the landlady or landlord is you – responsible for those who enjoy your establishment and those who do not, often leaving a public review in their wake.  

With such potential for a wide-ranging topic, for this article, I am focusing on the importance of …

The Partnerships We Have With Our Families.

It would be fair to say that I am cheating slightly by branching into two overlapping areas within this section using the term ‘our families.’

As International leaders, the community to which we belong can be extremely close-knit as pseudo-families are formed in the absence of usual parent or sibling support in national countries. The forging of these partnerships can be one of need, reliance, or expectation dependent on the experience of the International families that belong to our community. It is essential that, as leaders, we understand how this subculture partnership can have a favourable or adverse effect on the activity within your school. Long-term partnerships between some families (duration of time on enrollment) can have a swaying effect on incoming families depending on their experience. Those families that are new to the International market can often be led and guided by those most vocal and seemingly ‘more connected’. This influence will impact engagement in the school culture you are trying to create. Awareness of the ‘subgroups’ is key to an insight into which group will likely support or oppose a new direction or initiative you wish to enhance as a leader.  Understanding the intricacies that community bonding (or fallouts!) can have on your school is essential. With all partnerships; boundaries and a mutual agreement or understanding of one another’s area of responsibility are key. If family partnerships start to affect or influence how you are leading your school and the population of your community, it is important that the relationship is reviewed and an understanding of its terms and conditions may need refreshing. As with all partnerships, the more people involved in driving its mission runs the risk of differing opinions as to the direction in which the school is travelling, but equally, more opinions can help dilute stronger voices. 

Longevity brings knowledge, but it also entices a notion of “this is how things are done around here” and ownership. Occasionally, what families want from the partnership with the school and you as the community anchor and what you can provide, may differ. Your international families have a multitude of varied ‘work experience’ and with little or lots of understanding of how their working sectors do things in contrast. Whilst often ‘full circle’, as educators we understand that to provide our students with what they need, education needs to be transient and progressive. Each time it renews or begins to adapt (or mutate!), it challenges your partnerships and the shared agreement you have in that relationship. Some of your families will love your partnership even more as a result, some may like your partnership a little less. Whilst you as a leader will be keen to protect this partnership, the involved party may feel aggrieved and as with all relationships; need care, respect, space, and explanation to continue to make it work. If the terms or expectations of the partnership change, these need explaining ahead of time with parameters for understanding.  

The Partnership You Have With YourFamily
As mentioned before, I feel slightly cheeky in addressing the two branches in one context, but as a school leader, there is a potential conflict between the partnership you have with your school and the one you have with your family. As a leader of an International school, your profile is under the watchful eye of what may seem like everyone. An understanding of the relationship that you may be entering is important that it is not only read by you as the leader but that your responsibility is understood by your family and the part they play in this partnership. Whilst demonstrating a commitment to your family, it will be tested by those around you, and at times you may feel like a mediator between the two partnerships you have now entered. Again, there will be stronger voices and at particular times one relationship may demand more of you than the other. Reflect on the terms you have set and always review the conditions to make sure that all parties are abiding. Just as with the expected gradual mutations of outcomes in education, it is equally important to acknowledge that the additional demands on your relationship placed extrinsically will have an impact on your family’s terms and conditions. Protect these Ts and Cs by adapting as necessary and as before, insist that mutual agreement is reached through the conscious need to review boundaries, respect, and understanding to ensure that all parties continue to gain from both partnerships and be guided successfully by yourself with care and polished professionalism.

Nicholas Paul Belcher is the Principal at Invictus International School Bukit Timah, Singapore

To connect with Nicholas on LinkedIn, click here

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4 thoughts on “<strong>Understanding the Importance of Family Partnerships in Leading Your International School</strong>”

  1. A critically important topic of conversation and of ongoing practical relevance. Nicholas writes from both the heart and through his experiences in international education. Timely advice for all school leaders.

  2. What a thought-provoking and insightful read on the multifaceted nature of leadership in international education! Thank you Nick for articulating the nuanced dynamics of partnerships within an international school context. The significance of relationships with both the school community and one’s own family trully cannot be ignored. Nick’s insight into the formation and impact of partnerships with international families adds depth to understanding the intricacies of leadership in such diverse settings. Really enjoyed reading it.

    1. Thank you very much Veronica for your kind words, it was a pleasure to write and indeed has rather opened a Pandora’s box into the breadth and variety of partnerships which we encounter as leaders.

  3. Thank you so much for these very clear and articulate- practical- thoughts. We are indeed the landlady or landlord 😳 and the families ( members of which we become if relationships are positive), are ‘buying’ us as we define their initial experiences. This notion of family is vital in international schools- a responsibility that can not only make or break the school itself, but also define the success of a posting for families or your staff. Thank you again – such food for thought.

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