For my own studies, I have spent much time over the last few weeks, reflecting upon how leadership in new international schools is different. This led me towards putting together the diagram on this page, which takes into account my thoughts and the information I have accrued through my research.
The figure seeks to acknowledge that leadership can change over time, from being transformational, to vertical and ultimately, to distributed. This reflects the need for the leader to get things done immediately, to get the school running and to allow trust to be developed before distributing leadership. This takes a huge amount of effort and commitment to the task. The leader must rely greatly upon communication in order to rally stakeholders to the task and previous experience of the role can provide a solid foundation. At all times, no matter what the stage, the leader should constantly reaffirm and develop the ethos of the school and plan strategically for the future. Some of the key tasks during start-up are related to the need to get the school open and relate to policies, marketing, a coherent curriculum and resources (both academic and facilities).
At some point, it may be assumed that the distribution of leadership and the momentum of the community allows the leader to change strategic focus. As the school is now running and has been established, the headteacher can begin to concentrate upon improving standards. This may include a thorough review of the school and improvement of delivery, whether it relates directly to teaching or the resources required for it. Often, the ambition of accreditation with an international school body provides a framework for this, and can be a key watershed moment for the founding headteacher.
However, a leader must recognise that there will often be moments of crisis associated with their role due to reasons such as cultural dissonance, governance and the management of change. In order to overcome these challenges, it is vital that the headteacher demonstrates resilience and flexibility, as well as cultural and political leadership.
For Boards, this means that they must think deeply upon the type of person that they recruit. Preferably, they should have experience of the context, as they shall be placed under unusual and intense pressures. They also need to be strong in vision and be transformative leaders that can foster belief within the community. It is important that Boards also be clear from the outset about the governance structure they employ. Both headteachers and those for whom they work for should know their role, the limits of it and hold a shared vision for the school. It may be suggested that the Chair of Governors has experience of education in order to ease this dynamic.
The demands of the position also mean that particular types of personalities are suited to the role. It’s not for everyone! Perhaps the most key traits in my opinion, are resilience, problem solving skills and communication. More on that later!