Culture Conversations

Culture Conversations
André Double


The notion of the ‘culture conversation’ is not a new concept. Indeed, in our international schools they routinely take place during the onboarding and orientation process. However, their understanding, widespread use and effectiveness, are hard to measure. If culture really is the glue that binds your people and their purpose together, then the culture conversation is a vital tool for your schools to engage in and get right. But what exactly is a culture conversation and why are they so critical for our schools and their people leaders?


What are culture conversations?


Culture conversations are ways in which you interact with your staff in an ongoing manner and in doing so, use your school’s culture to help shape the future of decision making or changes in policy. They are a proactive strategy used to engage all staff and evaluate whether your staff have the requisite knowledge, skills and other abilities (KSAOs) to do their jobs effectively. They help share success, promote high-order thinking amongst staff and where necessary – pose difficult questions that staff may need to be asked. Finally, and perhaps increasingly important – they help identify malpractice, inequity and actions that can damage your school’s overall culture.

The typical culture conversation is routinely short. But with the skill of those who carry them out, staff can quickly be put at ease. They help fight fires before they get out of control and when adopted at a whole-school level, can lead staff on a path towards highly successful collaboration and interdependence – away from the shackles that dependence can often produce. But perhaps one of the most important aspects of the culture conversation from a Human Resource (HR) perspective is in using them as a diagnostic to measure your school’s culture.


Why are they so important?


Read any book on leadership and management and effective listening will be one of the most essential skills a leader can develop. Knowing what your people think and the reasons behind the way they think are your own form of AI. Accurately predicting work place behaviours, who presents a flight risk and where further appropriate academic support may be needed is highly valuable information. They thus represent what your people are saying.


In our first book ‘Leading Your International School’, I argued for a shift in the mindset of how we view our HR departments and the HR and People Leaders of the future we are going to need to drive change, increase diversity and promote opportunity in our schools. One such example lies in the professional responsibilities of HR when it comes to culture. A traditional approach sees the HR professional act as ‘Culture Ambassador’ – representing the school through their beliefs, actions and interactions. Yet whilst this is important, we need to move towards a role in which your HR and People Leaders become ‘Culture Curators’ and in doing so, help your people to achieve their potential. The figure below heights the difference between acting as a cultural ambassador and culture curator. Take the time to think about where your school currently is. What might your required actions be to move across to become a curator?


Traditional HR Mindset

Ambassador: This is our culture. Staff sought that ‘fit’ it.

School example: ‘In this school we…’. ‘This is what our culture looks like’.


HR and People Leaders of the Future

Culture Curator: This is our culture and these are the cultures of our people. How can we develop them together to become a competitive advantage?

School example: Culture continually measured across multiple variables; refined to add value. Work- placed coaching to maximise potential

Double and Cook, (2023, p. 338)


What do you need to have culture conversations?


When conducting culture conversations, Your HR and people leaders will need to:

  • Understand your workforce and what motivates them.
  • Deal professionally, sensitively and set an overall ‘can-do’ tone that breathes vitality into people’s daily lives.
  • Be aligned with your school’s values and use a language that reflects it.
  • Be honest and at times, handle challenging conversations.


In conclusion


Culture conversations are regular conversations that take place between HR, your people leaders and all members of your school community. They are ‘future focused’ and depersonalised. They focus on the actions, behaviours and strategies needed to fulfill the potential of both your employees and the school overall. They take place on a daily basis and are not limited to brief ‘face-to-face’ check ins once or twice when a new member of staff joins your school. They connect your people to their purpose and show that you – as an employer, display ethical leadership and care about the views, opinions and ideas of your teams, for it is that “great ideas come from anyone at any level of the school”.


Activity: In your school leadership teams or at your next SLT meeting, discuss what your culture conversations currently look like at your school. Do you even allow your HR to interact with teachers? What would successful culture conversations look like? Who might be a skilled operator in carrying them out, and what information could you discern from them that could be used to measure your school’s overall culture and make useful predictions about how your culture might need to adapt?


If you enjoyed reading this, then you may consider ordering a copy of ‘Leading Your International School’, André Double’s debut outing on international school leadership.



Double, A & Cook, W.S (2023). Leading Your International School. 16 Leaves, India.





André Double is an international school leader and author, currently living in Yangzhou, China. He is currently writing his second (and third!) books on international school leadership and collaborates with leaders and educational professionals from all over the world. All ECIS members have the opportunity to have their own voice in his work and you are encouraged to contact André if have a passion in educational leadership to share.

For further information go to

To contact André on LinkedIn go to:é-double-安德烈-杜布勒-b6574591/


Organisational Culture in School Settings

Organisational Culture in School Settings

Simon O’Connor
Director, Deira International School

In the second of these articles, Simon O’Connor, Director of Deira International School, explains how lessons from organisational culture in the corporate world can be applied to school settings.

A school leader needs to negotiate the minefield of competing values and understand the social reality of its members in order to arrive at a cohesion which enables the school to function efficiently’ (Hill)

One of the criticisms which is often levelled at school leaders and system leaders is that strategy and policy developments are perceived as being “too corporate “. Quite rightly, the education industry regards itself as being different to the corporate world. The ambition for business is to make profit whereas in education our ambition is much more holistic – to teach young people the values and skills that they will need to thrive for the rest of their lives.

However, on occasion, this rejection of the corporate perspective can mean that we miss out on valuable lessons. Following the banking crash at the start of this century many corporate institutions went back to review their purpose and the values which underpin their work. For example, Natwest produced their ‘Code’ – an explanation of their values which then sets out the behaviours that are expected when employees are living their values in their everyday work. This approach is not uncommon in industry and, indeed, has been a subject of interest since the 1980s.

One writer on organisational culture is Simon Sinek. The bestselling author of ‘Start with Why’, ‘Leaders Eat Last’, ‘Together is Better’ and ‘The Infinite Game’, Simon Sinek has helped and inspired organisations worldwide to reach new heights, while his TED talk, based on ‘Start with Why’, is the third most popular video of all time on, with more than 35 million views. Although discussing the corporate, business world Sinek’s approach seems to fit perfectly with many of the contradictions that exist in education. Indeed, his perspective on the finite vs infinite game seems to resolve conflicts which have exist within certain elements of school.

An important basis for understanding is what Sinek describes as the distinction between the finite and infinite game. In a finite game the rules are clear, and the requirement for victory is understood by all. Furthermore, it is also clear who the opposition is. A good example would be a game of football. There are clear rules, which are policed, by which everyone must abide. It is clear who the opposition are – they are even colour coded for clarity. Finally, everyone knows that the team who has scored more goals by the end of the match has won. After 90 minutes a clear winner emerges from these criteria. In an infinite game, these elements do not exist – there are no clear rules in which the different sides engage, indeed it is not clear who the other players are. There is no timescale as it is never ending, and no winner. Indeed, the only requirements in an infinite game are to keep playing and to do better.

Within this definition education can only be an infinite game – how can we tell when a school has won? Even if this were possible, surely the loss required for a win would depend on students underachieving, a consequence which no-one would advocate. If this is then understood, it makes little sense for schools to compete. All schools are different and pertinent to thought own context. Although we all do it, comparisons between schools are revealed to be at best meaningless and at worst a waste of both time and resources. The consequence of this is that schools should use this time to focus on what will continue to improve what they do.

However, Sinek does raise the concept of the ‘Worthy Rival’ – a supposed competitor that you know does something or somethings better. He argues that in order to improve, it is important to recognise when another organisation does something better than you, to seek to understand how and then adopt this performance for yourself. This is simply an articulation of the oft used ‘Sharing good practice’ which is so common within schools but seemingly frowned upon between them. If schools, and owners, were able to recognise that schools are not able to compete but can all contribute to the wider performance for children, just imagine what could be achieved.

Sinek also discusses the need to focus on wellbeing, particularly the need for staff to know that their voices are heard. Sinek uses the example of someone he talked to in a US hotel who was able to explain in real detail about how much he loved his job. However, the same person had an identical role in another hotel but hated it. The difference was that he felt heard, included and valued. In recent years, schools have started to consider wellbeing as a consideration, but this has accelerated markedly as a consequence of schools’ responses to COVID and lockdowns. We are all familiar with ‘student voice’ and gaining staff feedback – but Sinek identifies this importance of this. With declining numbers of teachers and leaders, as well as increasing generations of staff who expect their views to be heard, this is now a clear opportunity for schools to embrace a culture where all feel included.

Moving an organisation’s culture is never easy and takes time. Indeed, as Leithwood et al observed,

“In the best schools, with the best resources, and the most skilled leadership, the timeframe for transforming culture, structure, belief and practice is years.”

However, as Sinek demonstrates, learning lessons from the corporate world can help schools to accelerate this process and improve student outcomes.

In the third article of the series, Simon O’Connor will investigate how school-based research has highlighted specific interventions which schools can use to develop their culture.



Simon O’Connor is the Director of Deira International School with oversight over both the primary and secondary schools. Simon is also Chief of Education for the the Al Futtaim Education Foundation, working across their portfolio of schools. Simon has over 25 years of experience in education and joined DIS in August of 2020. Prior to this he was Principal of Jumeirah College, an outstanding school in Dubai, since 2013.

Simon is passionate about learning and ensuring all students are challenged in lessons for them to achieve their full potential. He strongly believes that if this is to be achieved students should be happy at school, and therefore the wellbeing of community must be a key focus for all. He is also very interested in school leadership and is currently studying for Doctorate with the University of Buckingham, researching the impact of a focus on organisational culture in international schools.

Prior to moving to the UAE, Simon taught History and Politics for over 20 years in a variety of different school contexts. In his last role in the UK, Simon worked as a school leader in a very successful grammar school in Kent. His role there was curriculum lead and was also responsible for the management of a teaching school and working across an academy chain of schools which he helped to found.

As a student Simon studied for a BA in History and Philosophy at the University of Wales, College of Cardiff where he was a choral scholar at Llandaff Cathedral. He then studied for a PGCE at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was also a choral scholar. Simon also holds a Master’s Degree in Education Leadership, and a National Professional Qualification for Headship.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Simon O’Connor
Director, Deira International School

With the benefit of hindsight, moving to lead a new school in the middle of a pandemic may not have been best timing. However, when I did, I was very conscious of the fact that many successful school leaders fail in their second position as a result of repeating the measures that they had introduced in their first schools. The school had led for the seven years prior this had enjoyed enormous success, but I was mindful I needed to adapt my leadership to the context to which I was moving.


I suspect my background in teaching is a very common one. I moved from teacher to through a series of middle and senior leadership positions until I was a deputy head. When I first became a school principal, I focused on what I knew, namely the processes and strategies which I’d seen to be effective. This included focus on teaching and learning, parental engagement strategies, quality assurance procedures as well as assessment routines and so forth. But looking back it is now clear that, whilst these were incredibly successful, to a large extent they were all individual strategies and instruments, rather than holistic approach.


During that first term, with new learning protocols in place and start offering both on site learning and distance learning, the focus became staff wellbeing. Teachers across the world were being asked to teach in a totally new way, using unfamiliar technology, yet being asked to perform at previous levels of success. As a school we recognised that if this was going to be sustainable (and there was significant doubt about this) we needed to ensure staff were properly supported in this new context. Very rapidly, this focus extended to looking at the culture of the school. As well as placing well-being strategies in place we wanted to identify how the school could be led from an holistic perspective.


Over the last 18 months this has become an increasing topic of fascination. There is significant writing on the impact of organisational culture within a school and, whilst there is inevitable disagreement about many aspects of this, that this is a powerful force for school improvement is rarely challenged.


Peter Drucker made the observation that ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’. Furthermore, one of the key authors on organizational culture, Edgar Schein wrote ‘the only thing of real importance that leaders need to do is to create and manage culture if you do not manage culture, it manages you.  … The unique talent of leaders is their ability to understand and work with culture; and that it is an act of leadership to destroy culture when it is valid viewed as dysfunctional’ Toby Greany and ‎Peter Earley even went as far as warning: ‘To neglect a considered and structured response to culture is perilous to the point of being foolhardy’. In a school context, with the enormous array of responsibilities within the headteacher’s job description, it would seem something of a challenging statement that their only real responsibility is to manage the culture of the school.


Furthermore, to accept this there needs to be an understanding of what is meant by the term culture. Again, previous authors provide a number of answers. ‘Culture is the values, norms, beliefs and customs that an individual holds in common with members of their group’. Or that ‘Culture is to the organisation what personality is to the individual – a hidden yet unifying theme that provides meaning, direction and mobilization.’ Certainly, one of the challenges of dealing with organisational culture is that it is difficult to precisely measure, but when one considers it in terms of both values and personality, I believe it potential power becomes clearer.


Culture is also recognized to exist in an organisation at various levels. Edward Hall referenced this as a Cultural Iceberg.



At its most obvious and visible, culture manifests in the behaviours and practices that exist across an organisation. Within a school context this can be the more obvious elements such as school events, policies, calendar of events but also lies in the less formal practices. For example, it could be in the way in which members of the SLT interact with staff. Are they visible around the school? Do they have open door policies in terms of meeting with staff students and parents? How transparent are the school policies?


Beneath this lie the less tangible elements which underpin the observable behaviours. This could include the vision and mission statements of the school. It also includes the assumptions upon which these statements have been made. For example does the school value inclusion, equity and diversity? Is the school selective or non-selective? Does the school exist as a for profit organization or not for profit? These values, and the extent to which they are prioritised will inevitably impact the behaviours which go to make the culture visible to others. In addition, if an organization’s culture is to be managed then, if it is to be embedded, then these elements must be identified and considered if to be successful.


Drucker’s suggestion is that management of organisational culture is more impactful that any strategic interventions. This has certainly been our experience over the last two years. In the second article I will outline how and why the ideas of an author on business practice has been interpreted to work within a school context.



Simon O’Connor is the Director of Deira International School with oversight over both the primary and secondary schools. Simon is also Chief of Education for the the Al Futtaim Education Foundation, working across their portfolio of schools. Simon has over 25 years of experience in education and joined DIS in August of 2020. Prior to this he was Principal of Jumeirah College, an outstanding school in Dubai, since 2013.

Simon is passionate about learning and ensuring all students are challenged in lessons for them to achieve their full potential. He strongly believes that if this is to be achieved students should be happy at school, and therefore the wellbeing of community must be a key focus for all. He is also very interested in school leadership and is currently studying for Doctorate with the University of Buckingham, researching the impact of a focus on organisational culture in international schools.

Prior to moving to the UAE, Simon taught History and Politics for over 20 years in a variety of different school contexts. In his last role in the UK, Simon worked as a school leader in a very successful grammar school in Kent. His role there was curriculum lead and was also responsible for the management of a teaching school and working across an academy chain of schools which he helped to found.

As a student Simon studied for a BA in History and Philosophy at the University of Wales, College of Cardiff where he was a choral scholar at Llandaff Cathedral. He then studied for a PGCE at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was also a choral scholar. Simon also holds a Master’s Degree in Education Leadership, and a National Professional Qualification for Headship.









Why I Didn’t Get the Job: Reflections on leading, growing, and moving forward

Kimberly Cullen
Senior Management Professional | Writer | Author


I was a finalist for a head of school position at a small Montessori school in the midwest. I didn’t know anything about Montessori, and my previous leadership experience had primarily been at the secondary level, so going into the process, I felt a little out of my league. That didn’t seem to matter though – the search team saw enough in my application and in my panel interview that they flew me across the Atlantic to interview me in person. I was one of four candidates in total – statistically, each of our chances were fairly low. I realized that I knew very little about the school so I decided the trip would be useful for me to learn more about them and their needs. As much as I knew about the school from their website, my research on Montessori, and the position description, I had no idea whether this would be a good fit for me, and so in a way, I was interviewing them as much as I was being interviewed.


Many weeks passed between the initial panel interview and the finalist visits. Almost 10 weeks, to be exact. In that time, I had received a significant number of rejections from a range of schools for similar positions. I wondered if maybe the universe was encouraging me to find another way to explore my interest in leadership, and I started looking into doctoral programs in leadership, adult learning, and organizational behavior. I had spent the last year on sabbatical thinking about my own leadership path – a seemingly impossible climb through the ranks of an international school from intern to Upper School Director over the course of 18 years, and I knew that as hard as I worked for the opportunities that came my way, I never learned about leadership. I knew when I was inspired and when I wasn’t, when I was growing and when I wasn’t, and I understood that being challenged and being criticized were two different things. But I also spent almost a decade trying to hide what I felt might be flaws.


No one had taught me what it meant to lead, and as successful as I had been figuring it out on my own, there were so many things I didn’t know.. and even more that I didn’t know that I didn’t know.  My sabbatical year had given me the opportunity to learn about coaching, to become a coach myself, and to teach coaching to other leaders. I realized how unprepared so many of us are for leadership and I grew committed to supporting others in the development of their own leadership skills. I co-authored a book for women leaders in international schools, and I facilitated a workshop series around coaching for growth.  As I considered all of these experiences, the possibility of pursuing a doctorate grew increasingly exciting to me, and I started working on applications to several different programs.


In the days leading up to the final interviews, I almost convinced myself that I didn’t want the job. I was fully committed to pursuing a doctorate at this point. I submitted a few doctoral applications before my interviews as a kind of “emotional safety net” so that when I didn’t get the job, I would have something exciting to look forward to. As a result, the nervous energy that crept up on me as I flew across the ocean to the very cool city that this school community called home took me off guard.  I spent the next day and a half preparing intensively for my visit to the school and the interviews that would come. I felt strong, confident, and I was inspired by the school’s mission and potential.


For a brief moment, I wanted nothing more than to be their new Head of School.  I had fun with my interviews, and reveled in that I’m kinda rockin’ it feeling. Eventually, as it usually does, the time came for me to talk about why I was the right person for the job – “Things are going fine at the school right now,” one Board member said, “so if you are selected, how will you demonstrate to the school community the added value of hiring you?” To be fair, the question came my way at around 7 p.m. after a full day of interviews and a raging case of jet lag that had me awake since 2 a.m. I don’t remember my answer.  I just remember being exhausted.


In the end, I didn’t get the job. As much as I had planned for that outcome (remember, doctral applications were already submitted), I was still disappointed. Rejection is never easy. In retrospect, I understand now why I wasn’t selected. Excuses aside, I failed to stand out. And while I can’t remember my answer to the most important question of all (why should we hire you?), I know I didn’t say this:


I have no experience with Montessori, and very little with k-8 education. I am learning about both and am committed to continuing. But what I am passionate about is guiding people. I know that my own leadership path is unique for a school environment, and I have had the benefit of a year-long sabbatical during which I have focused almost solely on how to become a better leader. I believe that schools have as much potential as those who work in them, and that in order to be great, we need to build on the strengths of our educators and staff.  No one is born a leader – leadership is something we learn, and I am committed to not only growing the best leadership team possible, but also harnessing the leadership potential of those they serve. And having said that, I myself am still developing as a leader. 


I have a lot of experience and great potential, and at the same time, I bear a healthy dose of humility and am not afraid to be vulnerable in front of others. I am eager to learn and to serve – in the interest of both of those things, I will be a leader who is committed to growing publicly. I will get a leadership coach, and I will work closely with those I lead to make sure we are all growing each day. It’s amazing that the school is doing well. And yet as a Search Team, you are committed to doing even better – that is why you embarked on such a thorough search process. My favorite quote is from Kung Fu Panda, when Master Shifu says to Po “If you only do what you can do, you will never be more than you are.” No organization should content itself with being good enough, and no leader should either. Together, our growth would be seen and felt by the entire community.


There is no way of knowing whether speaking this truth would have gotten me the job, and in hindsight, I realize that it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that the experience has helped me clearly define how I feel about leadership, and what I believe is possible.  I recently started reading An Everyone Culture:  Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization, by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey (Harvard Business Review Press, 2016), and it reminds me that I have a lot to learn about what makes leaders, and the organizations they serve, most effective.


Regardless of where you work, the need for change has become the baseline.  Education, technology, business, finance – all of it depends on people, awareness, connection, and the understanding that we cannot stand still. We have to keep growing.  Ultimately, my goal is to help other see this, because in the end, it is the pursuit of growth (personal, professional, organizational, societal) that will bring about the greatest changes of all.


  • Never stop growing. 
  • Leadership is earned, yet it must be learned. 
  • Reflect, Learn, Move.
  • Speak your truth.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.



Kimberly Cullen

Kim is a senior management professional skilled in building capacity, leadership development and learning. She is and experienced writer & author and passionate about bringing out the best in people.


Promoting a Gender-Inclusive Hiring Process

By members of the Carney, Sandoe & Associates International Schools Practice


At Carney, Sandoe & Associates, we are aware of the role that search agencies play in shaping the overall make-up of school leadership, both within individual schools and across the collective community of schools. In short, we know that who we identify and promote as strong candidates who meet a school’s particular needs matters a great deal.


Given the longstanding gender inequities in school leadership — the bias toward white menhat still holds today — we are committed to identifying and promoting diverse groups of highly qualified candidates for every school leadership position. We also see it as our job to educate all school search committees and governing boards about the qualities a range of candidates bring to the job and about the overall value of diverse leadership within and among schools. At the same time, we understand that it’s essential to focus energy on expanding the pool and pipeline of candidates for these positions in the future. This tripartite process is at the core of every search we conduct.


Recently, it has come to our attention that in the world of international schools — a vibrant, fast-growing area of K-12 education — the percentage of women heads and other top leaders has been particularly low. According to data from the Academy for International School Leadership (AISH), women heads of international schools have only improved slightly — increasing from 27% to 33% over the past ten years. While it’s good to see improvement, we submit that this percentage of growth is unacceptable, especially in a profession with so many extremely talented, highly competent women.


Our Focus on Gender Equity

For every search, the members of our International Schools Practice build a database of candidates and analyze it to ensure that we are interviewing for equitable access to leadership roles. Many times, this means we seek out and nurture talent, offering to review résumés and cover letters in advance, and holding one-on-one coaching sessions.


Separate from retained searches, we uphold our commitment to supporting women in education by hosting our annual Women’s (Re)Institute. First held in person in 2017 and now having completed its second virtual iteration, the (Re)Institute draws hundreds of women together to engage in workshops, one-on-one career advising, cohort groups, panel presentations, and keynotes related to female empowerment, skill building, and overcoming the unique challenges women face working in education. The event includes a range of sessions designed to help women educators develop their skills, make connections, and understand their leadership options and possibilities. Among the sessions this year, for example, were: “A Woman’s Worth: The Art of Negotiation;” “Living with Imposter Syndrome and Biased Workplaces;” “More than Conversations: A Feminist Approach to Equity Work in International Schools;” “Women, EQ, and Leadership;” and “Huddle (verb): To Gather Your Sister Circle.”


Given the low numbers of women leaders in international schools, this year’s (Re)Institute also included a topic we consider of utmost importance: “Ever Consider Leading an International School?” which was led by CS&A consultants Deb Welch and Karen Neitzel and included presenters Robin Appleby, Head of School at American School in London; Madeleine Hewitt, Executive Director of the Near East South Asia Council of Overseas Schools; and Nancy Le Nezet, Head of School at the Swiss International School in Qatar.


Additionally, Carney Sandoe offers implicit and cognitive bias training for search committees at no extra charge. Our consultants work internally with the Carney Sandoe staff as well, helping us to recognize ways our own identities, cultural perspectives, and biases that may be unconsciously serving as blind spots in our work. To further our organizational commitment to antibias work, Carney Sandoe is also covering the cost this summer for consultants to attend (diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) professional development of their choice.


We are engaged in this work across the board because we know it’s the right thing to do and because we know diverse leadership teams in schools function at a higher level that monocultural groups and, thus, serve the faculty, staff, and students best. Research makes it clear, for instance, that diverse teams focus more on facts, process those facts more carefully, and are more innovative (Rock and Grant, HBR, Why Diverse Teams are Smarter). The bottom line is that, by committing to helping create diverse leadership teams, we are not just committing to equity and justice, we are also helping to create better decision-making in school leadership teams, boardrooms, and classrooms.


Toward the aim of an equitable gender balance in school leadership, we’re proud of our record of recent appointments of women to senior administrative and leadership positions. Of those recent placements, 70% of them have occurred since 2018.


Female Appointments from Recent International School Searches



President, 2022


Primary School Principal, 2021


Superintendent, 2018


Director, 2019


Director, 2020


Executive Head of School, 2022


Interim Head of School, 2016


Head of School, 2018


Head of School, 2017

Director of Institutional Equity, 2021


Head of School, 2020


High School Principal, 2018


Executive Director, 2017


Head of School, 2018


Head of School, 2019


Chief Inspection Officer, 2021

Vice Head of Primary, 2021


Head of Upper School, 2016


Director of College Counseling, 2015


Upper School Head, 2021


Head of School, 2021


Deputy Superintendent, 2014

Middle School Principal, 2014

Elementary School Principal, 2020

Deputy Head of School, 2016


Principal, 2018


Superintendent, 2007

Head of School, 2021


Founding Head, 2022


Executive Director, 2013


Middle School Principal, 2019


Director, 2020


General Director, 2017


Montessori Director, 2019


Head of School, 2019


Head of School, 2018


Middle School Principal, 2019


Middle School Principal, 2017


Director, 2019


Director, 2019


An Invitation

At Carney Sandoe, we will continue to highlight the value of diversity in school leadership and promote diversity in the hiring process. In particular, we are dedicated to finding new ways to increase the number of women and other underrepresented groups. In this light, we are constantly encouraging talented candidates to apply for positions of interest, even if they believe it may be a bit of a “stretch.” We also help such candidates establish a connection with a search consultant who can advise them on their suitability for different positions and encourage them to test the waters. Meanwhile, we advise search committees that no candidate will check all the boxes of the desired profile, but that we are adept at identifying areas in which a candidate will be an excellent match for a school. We also advise candidates to work with a variety of search firms, since no single firm does all the searches.


For educators aspiring to leadership positions in international schools, this is a particularly good time to be looking. The number of international schools continues to grow at a remarkable rate and all of these schools are searching for administrators (and teachers) who are native English speakers. For those educators who are our candidates, we encourage you to let search committees know where your strengths and interests lie — so we can better align these strengths and interests with the needs of schools. Mostly, though, we encourage educators aspiring to school leadership to step up, cast your net wide, and believe in yourself. We know from experience that the right position will come.



This article was contributed by Art Charles, John Chandler, Karen Neitzel, and Deb Welch of the International Schools Practice.


As Managing Associate for the International School Practice, Art Charles has done more than 140 senior administrative searches, both in the U.S. and abroad. Prior to coming to CS&A, Art worked in five international schools, most recently as President of International College in Beirut, Lebanon. He also worked as an administrator and teacher at the American College of Sofia, Academia Cotopaxi (Ecuador), The American School in Switzerland, and the American Embassy School (India).




John Chandler is a senior consultant. The majority of his work has been in leadership searches for international schools. He has also led searches for U.S. independent schools and has consulted on governance. He has completed more than 120 searches. After several teaching and admissions roles, John served as Head of School at Pingree School (MA) for 14 years before becoming General Director of the Koç School in Istanbul, Turkey. Following Koç, he served as Head of School of Robert College, the oldest American school outside the U.S., also in Istanbul, for seven years.




Karen Neitzel is a search consultant for the firm’s Head of School, Key Administrator, International Schools, and Catholic Schools Practices. Karen joined CS&A from ‘Iolani School (HI), first serving as Dean of Studies before becoming Associate Head of School. Prior to ‘Iolani, Karen held several leadership roles in the Hood River County School District (OR), including Vice Principal and Principal. She also worked at The Archer School for Girls (CA), where she served as Assistant Head of School, Academic Dean, and Director of Technology.




Deb Welch is a senior consultant for the International Schools Practice. For five years, Deb served as CEO of the Academy for International School Heads (AISH), a leading organization among international schools. Her experience working in independent schools is deep and varied. She was the Director of American School of Doha in Qatar, as well as Director of Curriculum, Assessment, and Professional Development; then Deputy Head of School at International School Bangkok. She also has significant consulting experience, having worked as an independent consultant for various international schools and organizations.

Moonshot Thinking from the Sidecar


Debra Lane, Ed.D., CEO, Lane Leadership Group


I participated in an adventurous Sidecar Summit in Red Lodge, Montana sponsored by Sidecar Counsel. Fourteen international women leaders gathered at The Pollard Hotel to do some Moonshot Thinking on July 7 with Lakshmi Karan, Co-Founder of Future Frontiers Institute, and Bridget McNamer, Chief Navigation Officer of Sidecar Counsel.

Photo credit: Brian Korzenowski

According to the Macmillan Dictionary, ‘moonshot’ actually means a type of thinking that aims to achieve something that is generally believed to be impossible. Moonshot or stretch goals are goals that seem impossible to achieve. They should force teams and individuals to rethink how they work and take you out of your comfort zone. In the literal sense, President John F. Kennedy invented moonshot thinking in 1962 when he challenged an entire nation to set an incredibly audacious goal of sending man to the moon in fewer than 10 years…50 years later, Astro Teller has taken this discourse and transformed it into a philosophy, a certain mindset. Teller is the Director of X (formerly Google X), Google’s disruptive innovation division where they ideate, test and launch projects that use cutting-edge technologies to build solutions that can radically improve the world. Literally a Moonshots factory.


Lakshmi shared her vision and task. She reminded us how space travel was about to take off and asked us to think of the galaxy and what this means by 2121. She said, “We are in the midst of a new space race. Driven by political and economic incentives, with a focus on settling on the moon. We want to see a learning institute first before a military base. We want an advisory composed of humans (Monks, Scientists, Teachers, Students, Nurses, Data Scientists and many more humans). Her task is to help create the ecosystem that will enable us to explore and stay in a sustainable, equitable and responsible way.


As women leaders in education, we started to brainstorm ways to embark on this journey. How will success be measured by our own values and what is the process to get there? Who sets the rules and who is accountable? How will this learning benefit us back on Earth? Bridget and Lakshmi asked us to take this moonshot thinking back to our present roles and do the following:


Identify a huge problem that affects the entire organisation.

Most of us identified the issue of a need for more gender equity and women of colour in leadership positions. According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2020 study, for the sixth year in a row, women continued to fall behind in moving into first-level management positions. According to the study, for every 100 men promoted into a managerial position, only 85 women were promoted—and this gap was even larger for women of colour.


Identify a big, bold, seemingly impossible goal.

In the case of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), consider taking broad aim at diversity (for example, “We will achieve gender and racial parity at all levels of the organization, including our board of directors, by 2030.”). Your colleagues may jump to why this cannot be done at all levels or within the timeframe, but this is not the point. Moonshots are not designed as feasible goals; the point is to push the collective mindset beyond the gravitational pull of small incremental changes.


Craft breakthrough new approaches to tackle the challenge.

When it comes to driving increased diversity, it is imperative to start with data. Invest in a thorough collection and analysis of everything impacting representation, including recruiting sources, hiring processes, and promotion practices. Enact sweeping changes to talent acquisition, sponsorship, and performance review practices to include a much more diverse talent pool from which to draw. There are countless examples: Blue Origin by Jeff Bezos or Virgin Galactic in the space world; JUST or Impossible Foods in the gastronomy universe (trying to eliminate animal suffering) or cell-based chocolates; these are just a few examples of creating breakthrough approaches.


As we finished our morning with Lakshmi Karan and Bridget McNamer I had a number of ideas fleshed out on how I would like to push some big, bold goals and craft some breakthrough approaches to tackling those challenges. What are some of your moonshot thoughts going into the 2021-2022 school year?


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.



Debra Lane, Ed.D.

Dr. Debra Lane has been an educator for more than 25 years as a teacher and administrator in the U.S. and abroad. She has led several schools as principal, including most recently at Shanghai American School. She taught grades from pre-K through middle school, as well as ESOL, Literacy, and Gifted and Talented classes. Currently, she is working on federal grants focusing on transformative leadership and increasing teacher’s leadership and instructional roles across the U.S., Central and South America. She is also the founder of the educational consulting firm, Lane Leadership Group, LLC.

Talkin’ ’bout my Generation: Ageism in International Education


Sidney Rose & Michael Thompson

People try to put us d-down (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Just because we got around (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I didn’t die before I got old (talkin’ ’bout my generation)

This is my generation
This is my generation, baby

(With apologies to Pete Townsend).

The Who sang something like that in 1966 – when even we were just kids. It was a snipe at the “older” generation and their lack of understanding about what’s new and cool…. We reverse the lyric to take a snipe at the “younger” generation and their disregard of the wealth of experience and expertise we gained in those 55 years.

Yet, Mark Twain is said to have once said, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” 


But in international education it obviously does… we hear of many highly experienced and highly skilled senior educators being passed over by recruiters, agencies and schools because of their date of birth.


“International schools need great educators and leaders who are skilled, experienced and have the right personality and attitude” … TES


Ok Yes… really?… So?


Summary of our leadership careers from an Age perspective

As can be seen from our respective biographies at the end of this article, we are experienced heads of international schools and consultants. We have the first-hand experience of the relative ease of finding new and appropriate positions up to about the age of 55 years. From then on, securing a new position has become more difficult annually. Sid states:

I am often head-hunted based on my profile and then the prospective employer backs out when my age is revealed. It’s happened at least a dozen times, now.

Mick has been very fortunate in that his current and previous positions valued experience but this is an anomaly to the trend.

These facts are stated to set the scene in which we outline the many and varied skills and attributes that a motivated and experienced person brings to the roles of international leadership and consultancy.


There is Ageism in international education … Why is that?

There’s a lot of talk about gender bias, racial bias and culture bias in society and at the workplace and each are important for many reasons. But perhaps one of the most hidden, biggest and most problematic types of bias we face is the bias of age: Recruiters often evaluate candidates based on age rather than experience – or expertise for that matter.

Is it just the recruiters or are they doing what they are instructed by the school owner or board?

In India, we had the experience of several teachers over the age of 60 who had considerably fewer days absent during the year than their younger colleagues but there was prejudice from the board, (locals with a forced retirement age of 58). We propose that these “golden oldies” had fewer distractions than their younger colleagues, paced themselves better and probably contributed more to the school’s development.

Some recruiters will argue that many countries do not give visas to older candidates but according to a recent survey released by The International Educator (TIE), which asked about hiring restrictions at international schools, over 65% of the 176 school heads interviewed reported that their school’s host country does not have age restrictions for issuing a work visa.


So, what’s the issue then?

We argue that organizations and schools can and should, employ older educators as leaders, teachers or consultants and give them meaningful, important jobs.

The myth propagated by the retirement industry is that people over the age of 65 should retire. Despite the billions of dollars spent convincing us that our “golden years” should involve more travel, golf, sitting around the pool or pottering around the garden. Research however shows that people who stop working and retire may suffer from depression, heart attacks, and a general malaise of not having as much purpose in their lives. Many people, particularly those who have enjoyed long, and meaningful careers like to work. In the wise words of Stephen Hawkins…: “Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it.” It represents an opportunity to give value to others and the community, and it gives you something to do with your intellectual and physical energy.

Why would we want to retire if we love our work and can still contribute?

Many very experienced educators, school leaders and international education consultants and advisors find it more and more difficult to get work in their older years.  Virtually impossible actually. Why is that?

The average life expectancy in many developing countries is about 60 years and so it is difficult, perhaps even seen as biased and prejudiced if the country allows older internationals to work there.

If you are older, you are likely to be considered less capable, less able to adapt, or less willing to roll up your sleeves and do something new than your younger peers. They say we cannot use Technology but recent evidence during the current global pandemic has shown that the experienced leader has the ability to adapt and often lead schools when forced to work from a different time zone.


There is an assumption “oldies” are slowing down, are not flexible in their thinking and their health may deteriorate rapidly.

It can be expensive for medical insurance for older candidates and it might be assumed that there is a danger of a “lame duck” not fulfilling the contract?

Many international schools express concern over health issues for the older candidate and the associated costs of insuring them: “Health and health insurance are big issues. Disability coverage is not allowed over 60 and health insurance skyrockets,” reports one school. Another school in Africa, agrees, “I think that an older candidate must demonstrate physical fitness…I really feel that that is the main issue. A fit, active (coaching?) older candidate would have a good chance.

What could be worse than a much-loved, grandfather type leader, dying whilst working for the school?

But the facts are that we are living longer. The average longevity of human life increases each year. Life expectancy was around 50 at the beginning of the 20thCentury in the West. It is now 79 years – many of us are healthy and are in good shape and last much longer, and by the end of the century, it should reach 100!

International schools can appoint cheaper alternatives – and more often than not do.


What do we silver-haired “Golden Oldies”, have to offer?

Many of us are still fit and healthy. Many of us are fitter than our 45–50-year-old colleagues actually.

We, along with many other international education dinosaurs, have a wealth of experience, expertise and wisdom – gained from years in schools. We have the ability and expertise to train senior management and boards, based on acquired experience and expertise.

Adaptability: we have already “been there” and adapted to different circumstances, cultures and scenarios several times in our careers.  International schools vary dramatically, in location, size, student intake, staffing, curriculum, philosophy, and more. The best international teachers are willing and eager to adapt and embrace new circumstances and unexpected challenges.

In one specific area, age can benefit the school; the older educator will probably have a grown-up family that is not in need of subsidised tuition places in the school, annual home leave, larger accommodation, medical insurance etc. because they would not accompany him to the post. These savings, let alone the lack of “distractions” will allow the senior educator to focus most of his /her time and energy on the development of the school and more than offset the increased medical insurance of the educator.

With changes caused by the global pandemic, many older educators have displayed their ability to adapt and are abreast of recent changes in education. Many of us have been using technology since the 1980s and we are lifelong learners.

In order to be employable, we would suggest:

An annual review including a medical to confirm that we are still physically able to perform the tasks needed as head of school or consultant.  We always need a medical to get a visa for each country – and have always passed with flying colours.


What do we golden oldies have to offer in School Leadership/ Consultancy?

In addition to all the examples listed above, there should be no restriction on this as;

-health and fitness are not so important, the experienced educator will work within his/her capability and pace her /himself. Mick comments that “As a 26 years old newbie Head, I was constantly running around trying to fix everything myself, whereas the older, more empowering me as Head is far more efficient, effective and successful”.

– the only negative might be the perception of a: closed mind: but this would be eliminated by the consultant’s bid for the job. We are wise enough to know and understand our limitations.

-vast experience, network, knowledge of education, cultures etc.

– several “golden oldies” have shown their experience by leading schools as Interim Heads,  from afar during this pandemic; jobs that less experienced people could not do with the same level of competence.

There should really be no negatives as consultants are;

-paid by results, the short term usually. Sid’s school set-up projects have always been short-term to do the nitty-gritty work and use connections and network.

-none of the benefits that a head requires. Pension scheme, dependents etc.

It really is a win-win situation for the school and the consultant as the consultancy business is, realistically, “survival of the fittest’ as many of us have turned to consultancy as a way of giving back to the educational world that we have loved.

The “only” problem is they don’t want what we offer!!!! Ageism is rife!

The International Educator, a leading resource for teachers looking for jobs at overseas schools, has recently mandated that schools indicate if there is an age requirement when filling out their job posting form on their website.


What we have to do is point out the benefits to the schools of employing capable people who have a lifetime of experience. The most important job in the U.S. – and perhaps the world goes, often, to people who would generally be considered “too old” to be productive in most employment.  Joe Biden is 78 and deemed fit to run a country with the world’s largest economy and 328 million people. Many other national leaders are ancient; they are expected to use their wisdom, not their athleticism!


You can’t have 40 years of experience in a 30-year-old body! Or even a 50-year-old.


Besides the value and competence older employees can bring to an educational organization, there is the issue of cognitive diversity. Few things of value have ever been accomplished by individuals working alone. The vast majority of our advancements — whether in science, business, arts, or sports, or education— are the result of coordinated human activity, – people working together as a cohesive unit. The best way to maximise team output is to increase cognitive diversity which is significantly more likely to occur if you can get people of different ages, experiences and expertise working together. We, older heads have” been there and done it all” before, so don’t need credit for leading. Our aim is to develop the skills of the middle managers to be able to take over.

Career systems, pay systems, and recruitment and assessment systems are designed against hiring older people. Many companies believe older people are “overpaid” and can be “replaced with younger workers” who can do the job just as well. People like Mark Zuckerberg and others publicly say that “younger people are smarter.” We have an entire media and publishing industry that glorifies youth.

We must acknowledge that there is a limit for paying for an experience; the educational system which pays people more because they have done the job longer is not generally accepted by board members from industry. Oldies should be prepared to accept a salary similar to, for example, a 55-year-old.

Scientific evidence shows: For most people, raw mental horsepower declines after the age of 30, but knowledge and expertise — the main predictors of job performance — keep increasing even beyond the age of 80. There is also much evidence to assume that traits like drive and curiosity are catalysts for new skill acquisition, even during later life. When it comes to learning new things, there is no age limit, and the more intellectually engaged people remain as they age, the more they will contribute.


We should encourage schools and recruiters not to discriminate by age – or in any other way. This includes tackling implicit biases, which is an illegal practice. Many of us — no matter our age — do not have enough money to retire (even if we wanted to). This said people of every age are motivated to work and have a right to do so. If employers can create an inclusive, fair, and meaningful experience for older employees, as well as younger ones, the company becomes more innovative, engaging, – and profitable – and it benefits society at large.




What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.





Sidney Rose was born in Cheshire, England and studied at Manchester University.  He began teaching in 1974 in a Community College in Cambridge, followed by a Head of Department position in Hertfordshire before he was contracted by the UK Ministry of Defense to the British Services School in Hong Kong in 1980. Forty years in international education later in many countries, cultures and settings (Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Sweden, Qatar, India, China and Vietnam and well as consultancies in many other countries) as a school leader and international education consultant and advisor, he finds himself “on-the-shelf” and considered past-the-sell-by date.


Michael Thompson was born in Nottingham, U.K. and studied at Leeds University. He started teaching in Oxfordshire and was head of a co-educational secondary boarding school in Zambia at the age of 26. He then moved on to a career in international education with leadership positions in Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas. Michael has served as an accreditation team leader and was a member of the Education Steering Committee that produced the Government of India’s 5 Years Plan, 2012-2017. After establishing his consultancy, he returned to international school headship in Belgium and now Jamaica.


Image By Jean-Luc – originally posted to Flickr as The WHO, CC BY-SA 2.0

Integrating core values to improve team culture and character


Luther Rauk
Middle School PE Teacher and coach, The American International School of Muscat


After attending the Way of Champions Coaching Conference in Denver, CO in the summer of 2019, The swim coach, Cori Lee, at The American International School of Muscat, Oman decided to implement a strategy she learned about Core Values with her swim team.


While at the conference, Jerry Lynch spoke for several sessions about the importance of identifying team core values to help intentionally develop character on sports teams.  He gave the coaches an opportunity to reflect on 20 core values he thinks are important.  Each coach whittled that list down to 10 after the first day.  Then in the next session, coaches spent time choosing the four most important values to them as it relates to the role of a coach and leader of a group of student athletes.  Lynch then gave a framework of how to implement this with their teams and get their athletes’ input on what was important to them.  Here is our swim team’s story.



At the first team meeting of the season, Coach Cori Lee introduced the 10 core values she thinks were important for her team’s success this year.  Then in age group divisions, they spent 20 minutes deciding which one of the values most resonated with them.  The dialogue was intriguing because each group had to come to a consensus on just one core value to share with the rest of the team.  It was also interesting to see what different age groups valued most.  Though most groups had overlapping core values on their top three lists,  none of the age groups had the same core value as their top choice. When this was all said and done, Coach Lee combined the team’s values with her own to land on six core values the team would focus on this season.


At daily swim practices, Coach Lee wove each of these values into her talks and conversations with the team.  Each week one core value was chosen as a focus for the team. At the beginning of the week, Coach Lee would lead a brief dialogue around how the value applies individually, as a team and specifically to swimming. Later in the week, the HS swimmers shared a quote they selected that connects with that week’s value and how they live the core value as a swimmer. Team captains led the way and also shared personal stories from their own training to illustrate the value and importance of living the team’s values.


Coach Lee also created posters to hang on the pool deck and locker rooms throughout the season.  Core values were also embedded into each of her email communications highlighting specific examples of ways the team was living out their core values.


One striking example came from a long time member of the team (and captain) who thought the idea of a Love Box would help the team to create strong bonds between them.  She made a simple box where swimmers could drop a note into about a fellow teammate.  Each week the kids would open the box and team captains would share aloud or deliver the messages.  Imagine the feelings of the students when a positive and caring message was read about them.  Think about the impact on those swimmers who wrote the notes, knowing they made someone else on their team feel special.


Coach Lee was able to use these core values when having a conversation with a group of swimmers who were having some social distractions on the team. They were able to revisit the values each of them agreed to and compare that with the behaviours they were exhibiting in the middle of the season. This was a very powerful tool to help them talk through and make changes to their behaviours and improve the relationships between them.


During the end of season SAISA swim meet held at The Lincoln School, Kathmandu, Nepal, Coach Lee displayed the Core Values in all of the team areas as well as on spirit bag tags for each swimmer.  This helped the athletes to focus on things they could control throughout the swim meet and work to do their best at each event.  Through the hard work of the swimmers and coaches, the team was honoured to take the first place team trophy and many members swam personal bests at the meet.


Here are a few responses from the swimmers when asked about their team’s core values.


How did the core values shape you as a teammate?

  • It showed me things I should focus on to help contribute to the team. When we came up with it I knew it would be really impactful.
  • As a teammate it made me more excited and motivated to train as hard as I could because everyone else lived by these core values.
  • They helped me to remember what was important and why I was doing it.  It also taught me to show love and commitment towards my teammates and coaches.
  • It brought out the “togetherness” and joy for the sport. It made me both a better swimmer and a better teammate altogether.


How did the core values play a role in your swim training and your performance levels at the SAISA meet?

  • It made me feel so much joy. 100 percent joy. Because not only did the perseverance and competitive part help but it felt like I was part of a family and that was what made me swim my hardest and try to win the title for my family.
  • Personally, some of the team core values that we focused on were already strongly implemented within my swimming and day to day life like Competitive, Integrity, Commitment, and Perseverance. However, with the values of Love and Joyfulness, it was a reminder for me to also be able in swimming (especially at conferences) to take a step back and remember why I am swimming and who I get to swim with. I thought that each of our core values was significant in helping each swimmer do their best in the pool and be the best teammate.
  • I was able to realize that it wasn’t about winning, it was about persevering, being committed, having integrity, being competitive, showing love and being joyful. This helped me to be less nervous because I knew that people would be proud of me whether I won or lost.
  • Exclusively performance-wise, I don’t think they made me drop time, but they helped me experience SAISA in a much more positive way. I wasn’t only focused on winning a dropping time anymore, but on being there for my teammates, supporting them. This positive mindset helped me be less anxious about competing and satisfying my own expectations, which, now that I think about it, could have made me more relaxed and perform better.


What will you remember most about the work you did with your swim team core values that year?

  • I’d say the aspect in which we all fully dedicated and put the core values to heart. We all persevered “when the going got tough”, we all were very committed to the sport and team, we all maintained integrity when or when not we were supervised, we were very competitive and loved that aspect to swimming, we loved the sport, each other, and became a family through it all, and finally, we enjoyed it. We enjoyed the time we had together and enjoyed working and getting through things together. Swimming brought us close and I will never forget the family that originated from such a simple sport — swimming.
  • That year really solidified some of the realisations I’d been having about swimming for a long time. Over the years I realised that competing and performing well was not the most important part of swimming. Although it crushed my childhood hopes of taking the sport to a higher level, I realised that the most valuable experience was not winning or dropping time, but rather the connection that we had as a team. Nearly all of my closest friends I’ve met directly or indirectly through swimming, and I will always be grateful to Coach Lee for offering this new perspective on the sport, which places more emphasis on things like joy, compassion, and love, instead of competitiveness.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to have your thoughts below.



Luther Rauk is currently a Middle School PE Teacher and coach at The American International School of Muscat, Oman.  Originally from Minnesota, USA, Luther has also lived and taught in Thailand and Bahrain.  Luther spent four years as the Athletic Director at TAISM where he developed a passion for learning how best to help coaches do their important work with kids.  A desire to make real connections with students again led him to return to the PE classroom in 2018.  To connect with Luther please follow him on Facebook, twitter@lutherrauk or email him at

Differences That Make A Difference: Stories & Strategies To Inspire Women Leaders


Debra Lane, Ed.D., Jolene Lockwood, Ann Marie Luce, Ed.D., Bridget McNamer, Francesca Mulazzi, Ed.D., Lindsay Prendergast


If you aren’t aware of the gender imbalance in education leadership, especially in international schools, it’s possible you’ve been living under a rock. And it may be a rock worth a long visit and careful study if it’s one where gender imbalance isn’t a thing.  The rest of us will have so much to learn from that!  Because what the women leaders contributing to this article can tell you from experience is that leading as a female in an international school is an adventure, sometimes of the very best kind, but too often of the unnecessarily challenging and depleting kind.

We are all well aware that leading in an international school is demanding, gender notwithstanding.  Then there’s the reality that the leadership post and pathway was created with a white male prototype in mind – a white male with no real personal life and no family responsibilities at home.  Women traversing the landscape either find themselves trying to follow the prototype pathway or figuring out workarounds… or trying to forge a new pathway based on their lived experiences and inherent attributes.

This article’s contributors are experienced women leaders who are frustrated with the traditional leadership pathway and have come up with visions, strategies and tips for moving more women into the leadership ranks of international schools.  We came together as one of the Sidecar Rally cohorts of women leaders brought together by Sidecar Counsel, a coaching and consulting practice dedicated to elevating women leaders in international schools.  We learned so much from each other about how to navigate the obstacle course that is the leadership path for women that we decided to promote our learnings more broadly.  We think this will make things better for everyone, males included.     — Bridget McNamer


Overcoming Fear of Failure
Dr. Debra Lane


The reason women are afraid to fail is that no one walks around celebrating their failures. Failure is invisible. All you see on resumes and social media are people’s success. Publicly admitting defeat is such a novel concept that when Princeton University Professor Johannes Haushofer created a resume of his failures (, it went viral. Big failures mean you had courage. Make a list of your failures and see how impressive they are compared to your successes. Courage comes from a place deep inside, where fear loses a battle against faith: faith in oneself and faith in the possibilities.  Without this adherence to the knowledge that the outcome is more rewarding than the fear, there would never be any reason to take risks.  And women, who so often strive for perfection, who limit themselves for fear of not meeting up to the standard, for appearing weak, for not getting it right, will all too often convince themselves that the risk is not worth taking.  Leadership appears in women who model courage.  Gloria Steinem has said “being brave is not being unafraid, but feeling the fear and doing it anyway…  When you feel fear, try using it as a signal that something really important is about to happen.”  [AR1]

The women in international schools have taken huge risks:  moving to new countries, establishing boundaries, stepping outside of their comfort zone, defying limits that have been externally imposed. They have challenged the norm, the status quo, traditional gender roles.   They have continued to challenge themselves professionally while raising children. Courage involves a willingness to fail, and an inherent understanding that failure is really gain disguised as loss.


Balanced and Wholehearted Leadership
Jolene Lockwood


Leaders are explorers, pioneers, and adventurers, bravely putting one foot in front of the other to lead courageously even when we may not have all the answers and especially given uncertain and challenging times. Leading requires us to empower teams to think flexibly, with benevolence and curiosity to break free of anxiety and static thinking. There are a number of ways that we can make this happen using three leadership superpowers.


Cultivate Curiosity

To be courageous requires us to be vulnerable, open, and curious. The research of Dr. Brené Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. This does not mean we need to disclose details about what the struggles are; it just means that we need to be honest about it. It might sound like, “We have a lot on our plates right now…” or “Wow, I’m struggling today, and I’ll do the best I can. So we need to focus on…” It is acknowledging that something exists, but not rambling on about it.


Be Self-Aware

This is the notion of, “What are we paying attention to and why”? What do I observe, measure, and learn? How will this inform my decisions?” Self-awareness is about identifying what the stories we make up are and fact-checking them. The brain will make up a story about what is happening when we don’t have all the facts. This is why it is important to check ourselves and our stories before we wreck ourselves with assumptions. Combat this by engaging in a data search. Who might I need to check in with to validate or dispel my assumptions?


Be Benevolent and Empathetic

When we listen in with curiosity, without interruption or judgement, we strengthen our connections with others. Empathy is the antidote to anxiety. Listening in with empathy and understanding requires non-judgment, perspective-taking, and honoring the other’s story as their truth. And when we respond, we do so without providing sympathy or solutions.

Practicing and integrating these skills is not easy. It requires persistence, being imperfect, messing it up, and circling back to try to get it right the next time. The result can be tremendously empowering for oneself, and deeply impactful on the communities we lead.



Mindful Leadership: A Learning Journey
Dr. Francesca Mulazzi


When I was a teacher and an aspiring principal, I worked for two different middle school principals who each consistently demonstrated cool in a fast-paced school environment.

However, once I got my first job as an international school principal, I felt exhaustion and disorientation. I was overwhelmed from dawn to dusk. There were decisions to make, teachers who deserved my time and attention, families in crisis, and the long hours of working at a job that I loved.


I asked myself, “How did my mentors maintain calm in the storms of the principalship?” If I want to be effective and ultimately meet the needs of students, I need to do better. My learning became purposeful: observe, ask questions, research, learn, practice, repeat.


So began my research and learning. I dove into mindfulness, meditation, and mindful leadership. I completed a Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction course, sat a Vipassana retreat, and developed a regular meditation practice. I attended a Mindful Leadership Summit and learned from internationally renowned experts about emotions and mindfulness in the workplace.


I entered a doctoral program with a burning wondering: how do I maintain equanimity while leading through a storm? I developed a study that measured stress and burnout in international school principals, tying it to the coping strategies they employed. I learned that Mindfulness constructs are behaviors that I can develop and sharpen. I am applying what I have learned in my role as a school leader in Washington. When I feel overwhelmed, I name it. If a frustrated teacher comes to me, I listen. I practice being present. I pause when my heart is beating too fast. I take breaths. Years of reading, research, learning, and practicing has brought me to the point where I am now, a mindful school leader (on most days!).



Leadership May Be Lonely, But You Are Not Alone: Building Networks, Opening Doors
Lindsay Prendergast 


There is an (incorrect) assumption that developing professional connections is a self-serving endeavor solely to close business deals or gain access to “inner circles”. Rather, building a diverse network of colleagues has far greater benefits. For women, who may be the minority on a team, networks provide support and also professional guidance for the otherwise isolating work at hand. Sharing experiences can mitigate the perception you are the source of issues being faced, when it may in fact be the imbalanced work environment. Together, we learn we are not alone. Connecting our talents may catalyze everyone’s success towards unimagined destinations, and our collective voices carry further and reach more ears.


Where do we build such networks? Anywhere women leaders gather! Twitter and LinkedIn are not only for hearing others personal accomplishments. See a woman leader’s work you admire? Tell her in a direct message! Participate in Twitter chats and you may find common interests or roles and open a conversation. Read an interesting article? Contact her. Ask about her work, perhaps suggest a future collaboration. If initiating a conversation with strangers sounds daunting, attend webinars or conferences. Discussions in breakout rooms or at a session table can carry into a contact exchange, building a PLN (Professional Learning Network).


You may hear of the merit of mentors in building your career, yet a sponsor may influence your growth in far more direct ways. Sponsors directly make referrals and open doors to meet their own contacts, a practice men have been applying for centuries. Are there women leaders in your network who could qualify as a sponsor? Perhaps they only need you to let them know your aspirations and they can offer strategic support. Whether the result is a new professional opportunity or a learning experience, your network has just expanded that much more.



A Gender-Inclusive Evaluation Framework for School Leaders
Dr. Ann Marie Luce


When examining how leadership is evaluated, research reveals that traditional leadership is defined in masculine terms. Women often receive less favorable evaluations because of this bias towards male-dominated performance expectations. Male leaders are charismatic, assertive, competitive, agentic, and visionary. When women take on these same characteristics as their male counterparts, they are often perceived as harsh, abrasive, and overconfident, often leading to the dreaded ‘B@&#$’ label. Gender stereotypes also apply to men. When men take on more typically feminine leadership styles, which involve collaboration, community, and relational skills, they are valued less than other male colleagues. Leadership stereotypes based on gender do not serve men or women.


What if we reimagined a new evaluation framework for school leaders based on capacities and resources? The Ontario Leadership Framework identifies five core capacities and three personal leadership resources that can serve as a self, peer, or system evaluation tool for school leaders. The five core capacities are goal-setting, aligning resources with priorities, promoting collaborative learning cultures, engaging in courageous conversations, and using data. Leaders use their personal leadership resources: cognitive, social, and psychological to build and develop these capacities to move the learning and teaching forward at both the school and system level. This framework can coach, assess, evaluate, and support the growth of all leaders and help us to reimagine a world of leadership without gender bias.



Strength in Numbers
Bridget McNamer


The path ahead isn’t easy.  In addition to addressing the systemic barriers at play that hold women back, we’ve got work to do to nurture the courage and ‘tool kits’ of women leaders so they can create more space for themselves in this landscape.  The stories, strategies and tips described by the authors of this article can be key elements of this tool kit.  And the company and support of others along this path will help us be even more effective.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to have your thoughts below.





Debra Lane, Ed.D.

Dr. Debra Lane has been an educator for more than 25 years as a teacher and administrator in the U.S. and abroad. She has led several schools as principal, including most recently at Shanghai American School. She taught grades from pre-K through middle school, as well as ESOL, Literacy, and Gifted and Talented classes. Currently she is working on federal grants focusing on transformative leadership and increasing teacher’s leadership and instructional roles across the U.S., Central and South America. She is also the founder of the educational consultant firm, Lane Leadership Group, LLC.


Francesca Mulazzi, Ed.D.

Dr. Francesca Mulazzi has been an educator for two decades as a teacher and administrator in the US and overseas. From her first international position in elementary education in Rabat, Morocco, through teaching French and EAL in Singapore and Shanghai, to K12 Principal in Aruba, and IB DP Coordinator in Lusaka, Francesca’s international school experience is rich and layered. She is currently serving as the Head of Upper School at Saint George’s School in Spokane, WA, where she is applying the research from her doctoral dissertation on managing stress and avoiding burnout with proactive coping skills and self-care.



Ann Marie Luce, Ed.D.  Kehoe France Southshore

Dr. Ann Marie Luce is a proud scholar practitioner who believes that our moral imperative as leaders is to build the capacity of others through service, strengths-based support and coaching.  As an educator and school principal, Ann Marie has served a variety of communities in Canada, China and the United States. Ann Marie’s doctoral research at Gonzaga University was focused on how leaders develop their cultural intelligence to lead in a global context. She believes that trust, transparency and collaboration are the keys to success for school leadership.



Jolene Lockwood

Jolene Lockwood has been an educator for 30 years in the US and abroad, and has over 15 years of coaching and consulting experience. She is a certified Dare to Lead™️ and Daring Classroom™️ facilitator for best-selling author Brené Brown and also does work around the world as a Cognitive Coaching Agency trainer, most recently for the Heritage Xperiential Schools in New Delhi, India. Jolene specializes in building and sustaining leaders that cultivate courageous cultures to transform the ways we learn, lead, and live.



Lindsay Prendergast

Lindsay Prendergast is an education leader and coach with sixteen years of experience serving schools both in the US and as a Principal in the Dominican Republic. Currently, Lindsay is a School Improvement Coach for NWEA and a Framework Specialist for The Danielson Group. She regularly designs and leads diverse professional learning experiences in both English and Spanish for ASCD, Learning Forward, Faria Education, ECIS, and Cognia.



Bridget McNamer

Bridget McNamer currently serves as Chief Navigation Officer for Sidecar Counsel, which aims to bring more women into leadership roles in international schools, enhance their leadership capacities once there, and cultivate an environment where women in these schools – and thereby all members of the school community – can thrive. Prior to creating Sidecar Counsel, she served as a senior associate with Search Associates and, in her earlier career, was an international philanthropy professional with more than 20 years’ experience in advancing social change in the foundation, corporate responsibility and education sectors.

Leading with Courage in Education

Leading with Courage in Education

Joe Lumsden, Secondary School Principal, Stonehill International School


Every school is torn apart by three conflicting demands from the world and the community that it serves.  Firstly, there is the ‘economic’ demand for high scores and university placements that promise financial returns for parents. Secondly, there is the ‘social’ demand for graduates that will have a positive impact on the planet and the society that they live in.  Finally, there is the ‘personal’ demand for schools to provide opportunities for each child to grow in their own way and to fulfil their unique potential.  School leaders need to pay attention to all three demands as they make decisions on a daily basis.

Now, with countless new ideas in education battling for attention and the evidence base flimsy, contested, and often politically biased in all areas, we need to rely on a clear vision of what it takes to lead an educational community in the twenty-first century.  As we move forward through the jungle of rapid social, economic and technological change, these, I believe, are the five tenets that we need to hold onto:


1.You have to believe that relationships come first and that people are always more important than a system. 

Any system that you set up is not going to be equitable or work for all of the stakeholders. Systems need to bend, and when they do, everybody needs to understand the difference between what is ‘fair’ and what is ‘equal’.

Relationships based on trust and support have to be built throughout the whole learning community. You cannot run cooperative learning experiences if students are more interested in competing with each other and if it is in anyone’s interest to ‘beat’ anybody else. You also can’t expect any student to be courageous enough to present their work in front of others, share their ideas comfortably in a group, or risk failure by attempting a more challenging task if there isn’t the safety net of a supportive community of students, teachers, parents and administrators protecting them.


2.You have to believe that our task is to prepare students for the future, not just for their university career.

If we are willing to shoot for a more noble goal, then we can justify spending time on getting students involved in real-world learning activities, wading into the murky waters of interdisciplinary challenges, getting out of the school building to work with local organisations and businesses, and helping them connect their learning to the kind of things they’ll probably be doing after academia.

Of course, students need to practice for university entrance exams, but not at the expense of ‘getting an education’.


3.You have to believe in a more democratic sharing of power, both in the school and in the classroom.

We need to understand that not only is “my way” (the teacher’s methodology) appropriate for many students, but that there is also a “highway” (presumably for the more gifted students in the subject), and there is even a large number of alternative routes that will get students to a variety of desired destinations. This may manifest itself in increased student voice in the curricular decisions made in class, differentiated instruction and assessment, mixed grade levels, an approach to ‘inclusion’ that is more push-in than pull-out in a school, and flexible scheduling with students determining how to spend their time. Teachers and administrators need to be okay with the mess that such an approach inevitably results in.

And on a whole school level, administrators have to also be comfortable with allowing teachers to experiment and to run their classes in their own style, a style that will hopefully allow them to remain true to their own personalities rather than being sucked into a standardised system of instructional practice.


4.You have to believe that students, when or if they want to, are quite capable of learning whatever is necessary without you. 

If you are going to pretend to hold on to the knowledge that students need to succeed in your course, then you are constantly going to be resisting so many of the initiatives that hold so much potential. If students are spending time completing projects connected to their passions, or if they are given the choice of what to read, or if they are given time for self-directed learning, they are inevitably not always spending time doing what you think they need to do in your course.

You may argue that there are things they need to know to do well in your course, but we need to have faith that, given the resources and clear expectations, students are quite capable of learning such things by themselves. They will do so when they need to, not necessarily when you want them to.


5.You have to believe that it is ‘growth’ that matters, not ‘achievement’, and that learning cannot be easily quantified. 

The battle that administrators face is to make sure everybody knows that high average scores in external exams are not necessarily an indicator of success for the school. The easiest way to ensure high scores is to control admissions and limit the number of students taking such tests. Put qualifying criteria in place and you are safe.

Administrators have to focus on ‘growth’ — on showing the community the things that students learned due to their enrolment in the school, on the progress against academic indicators with reference to where they started from, on the things they tried for the first time, on the reflection that they engaged in during challenging learning experiences, on how they were able to meet their goals and, perhaps, take steps towards living their dreams.

That’s much harder than putting up a bar graph to show the performance of the graduating class in the recent exam session. Administrators have to believe that it is worth the effort.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to have your thoughts below.





Joe Lumsden is the Secondary School Principal at Stonehill International School. Before moving to India, Joe was the Secondary School Principal at the Istanbul International Community School. He is an active member of NEASC and CIS Accreditation teams, with a professional goal to help his own school and other schools bring the NEASC ACE Learning Principals to life on a daily basis. Learn more