Leadership Lessons From International Schools

2 min read
Jan 6, 2017

Leadership lessons from schools

The popularity of teaching in international schools is on the rise as the number of such schools has increased dramatically. International school teachers are part of the roughly 8 million ex-pat Americans, according to the Association of Americans Resident Overseas.

This profession, however, is fraught with logistical problems. Teachers move to the other side of the world in a leap of faith, with the employer often providing almost all the information about their new home. International school teachers don’t have a union. They’re also often confused about what their rights are in their new countries. On top of that, they sign two-year contracts, locking them into living in a country they know little about.

Enter International Schools Review (ISR), which is like Glassdoor for international school teachers. Teachers rate the schools on a number of factors and often provide a narrative as well. ISR has helped many teachers avoid signing contracts for sketchy employers. Here are some lessons from common mistakes from these schools that you can apply to your organization:


Consistent Complaints

The majority of reviews on ISR are negative. In fact, most teachers say that if a school doesn’t have an ISR profile, that’s a good sign. Often, reviews are posted as warnings to candidates considering those schools.

The most frequent criticism of international schools is poor administration. Like the old saying goes, people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. Reviewers often accuse administrators at these pricey international schools of taking the parent’s or student’s side in disciplinary issues. For example, if a student cheats on an exam and a teacher punishes the student, the administrator might reverse that decision in deference to parents paying high fees.

Many reviewers also say they sign contracts only to discover that the job is completely different. They may be certified in teaching English literature and end up teaching biology. Or the school may neglect to pay them the amount stipulated in the contract.

Lack of transparency is a common issue as well. Reviewers say that the board of directors or the administration may make major decisions, such as renovating the school or changing the grading scale, without consulting any other stakeholders. This is often followed by poor communication about the details of the decision and how it will affect the school community.

Workplace t 

A High-Turnover Field

International schools often pay teachers better than their American counterparts. They also offer cushier conditions, such as smaller class sizes, fewer classroom behavior problems, and long vacations. However, one study found that international schools lose 17% of their staff every year, with some schools reporting a loss of 60% of their teachers.

The criticisms international school teachers make are similar to those in other fields. Our research has found that a lack of managerial transparency is a major issue for employees. When that trust breaks down, it becomes an “us and them” situation, with employees and employers always angry with each other.

Organizations need to work on developing decision-making systems that incorporate all stakeholders. They need to communicate frequently and clearly with employees. And they need to uphold their agreements. When they don’t, the perils of a toxic work culture are around the corner.



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