All posts by Forrest Broman

How to Change a Nation

Eight years ago, Prince Saud bin Khalid Al Saud of Saudi Arabia founded and funded a new international school, the first of its kind geared to the needs of Saudi K-12 students.

Until the creation of Advanced Learning Schools (ALS), all Saudi nationals living in the country were required to attend a Saudi curriculum school. By contrast, ALS was founded and developed as an IB school system, with the IB’s international, English-language curriculum from Kindergarten through Grade 12.

The success of ALS to date has led the Saudi Ministry of Education to change the laws, and permit new international and/or private national schools to enroll Saudi nationals.

Right now in fact, many of the students at ALS come from the Royal Family. When they come of age, I am certain many will have a major part to play in turning their nation into a modern, progressive state—with equal rights for women.

This is how you change a nation! Through education.


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Five Keys to Running a Great School

Seventeen years after ceasing my career as an international school head, I am still unpacking the most important lessons I learned. I headed two schools, in very disparate circumstances, for 23 years and would like to share five enduring observations here.

1. First and foremost…

The most critical factor to the success of students in their learning is the quality and effectiveness of the teachers and administrators supporting them. Yet while most educators acknowledge this, agreement on the essential skills and characteristics of highly effective teachers is far from unanimous; the plethora of teacher evaluation programs and techniques attests to this confusion. But the most essential way to address this conundrum is to train administrators and teacher leaders to identify, assess, and develop the essential skills the best teachers should all have in their arsenal.

2. Second and foremost…

The above will not produce a highly talented and effective teaching staff unless administrators also have the courage to confront, honestly and directly, the shortcomings of mediocre and “just OK” teachers. This is the most difficult task, and the most telling factor in the strength and quality of school administrators. Mediocre teachers may be very nice, and very popular, staff members; when this is the case it is especially challenging.

Meanwhile, administrators are perennially concerned about staff morale and inherently committed to the best possible relations with their teaching staff. The pursuit of popularity and staff approval can greatly inhibit the effective human resource decisions of principals and school heads. This raises the essential question: is their primary commitment to maximizing the learning of their students, or to promoting the most auspicious relations with staff, and overall staff morale?” The former goal should clearly prevail, as difficult as that may be. But so often in many good schools, substantial time, resources, and training efforts are committed to bringing the skills of sub-par teachers up to an acceptable level, when replacement with superior teachers would clearly better promote the learning of their students.

While a difficult choice, doing the right thing in these circumstances can actually promote the pride and the morale of a school’s teachers. They need to understand and sign on to the maintenance of high standards, and to see a clear process of evaluation that is characterized by procedural integrity.

Effective school leaders can cultivate the belief and conviction that highly effective teachers positively affect every member of staff through a strong record of learning and student development; the recognition of parents and the community; and the morale of students who appreciate their effective teachers. It is also possible to get union representatives committed to the goal of retaining only highly effective teachers, and we did this at WBAIS in Israel.

3. Think “student activities”

A strong and comprehensive student activities program can reinforce learning by ensuring that students enjoy their favorite activities; this may include many sports, but goes far beyond them. Many international schools, being the de facto community center for expatriate families, set a standard that far exceeds what most nations’ public schools can provide.

Students need to have activities they believe are fun and responsive to their needs and interests. Some schools create programs in martial arts, quilting, cooking, painting, or any other pursuit in which at least 10 students have an interest. Most international schools are beehives of activity in the after school hours, and often into the evenings. As in every enterprise, the busiest and most engaged students are often the ones who perform best in the learning arena.

4. Professionally, you get what you develop for

Schools that strongly promote the professional development of their staff, together with career ladders that capitalize on special skills and leadership potential, are most likely to attract and to retain a dynamic and effective cadre of educators.
This is a proposition that the most prominent and effective international schools acknowledge and pursue, and the impact can be enormous. Random grants and mere budgeting for professional development will not have the desired impact.

In my experience, a key approach to developing a strong, committed, and effective cadre of teachers involves tapping their skills and interests in projects outside their classroom. Many dynamic teachers have leadership qualities and aspirations; by cultivating and supporting their interests, through administrative assignments, coaching other teachers, or developing programs they want to experiment with, a wise administrator can foster a dynamic working environment and the continued development of key staff members.

In my longest tenure as a head, at WBAIS in Israel, over half of the staff was engaged in administrative or educational projects such as Model UN, English language instruction for local residents, coordinating after-school programs, monitoring interns, chairing departments (with concrete learning objectives), coaching colleagues, public relations programs, alumni programs, etc. These services were either paid for by contract, or included as one fifth of their workload, thereby teaching one less class. This was one of the most successful endeavors our school enjoyed.

When we developed an annual school retreat and professional training program, for two or three days and in some unique location, a committee of five to seven teachers conceived, developed, and coordinated the entire program. They came to realize how challenging and complicated it is to mount an educational retreat. Most found it a highly rewarding experience, and developed some healthy respect for the challenges encountered by administrators.

5. It’s all about expectations

The most basic constant in my experience, in terms of promoting strong student performance, is setting and enforcing high standards of performance for students. Students should be challenged in their work, and all assessments should be based on clear standards and objectives. No student who is just coasting should be receiving high, or even acceptable, grades. Students and parents need to be informed of these expectations, and the reason for them. The higher they are set (within reason of course), the stronger student performance will be. It is that simple!

This can be challenging, especially for hard-working students who have managed straight As in their previous schools. I recall a heavily decorated army colonel angrily confronting our then principal at ECA Caracas (Bambi Betts) when his high-achieving daughter got two B grades on her report card. “What do you think your school is,” he roared, “some kind of educational Mecca?” Bambi Betts answered, “As a matter of fact, yes!”

I know that many other new approaches to promoting stronger schools and better student learning have since emerged. One new key is the development of comprehensive assessment strategies. Online learning also seems to me to offer a clear path to more and more effective student learning. And the identification and development of other types, and sources, of intelligence can be profound. I leave these new pursuits to the currently engaged teachers and administrators, who are in many international schools the real trendsetters for more effective learning by all.

Is Certification Required by International Schools?

A question very often posed by experienced teachers seeking an international assignment, is whether international schools require “certification” by a state agency (in the USA), or their home country’s educational authority.

The short answer is “Maybe!”

Some of the more American-based international schools do still require certification before they will hire a teacher. But a growing number of international schools, many with an American orientation, do not require certification for a teaching position. For sure, not being certified should not prevent any experienced teacher from applying for and securing an outstanding international posting.

Successful teaching experience is, in fact, the major criterion on which most of the best international schools base their hiring decisions. Thus, for example, an outstanding teacher with only private school experience and no state certification will have many excellent opportunities to join the ranks of international school teachers, with their excellent benefits, salaries and savings opportunities.

Moreover, even those schools that have certification requirements (notably in Central and South America) do so to satisfy accreditation agency restrictions. But there are also ways in which certification status can be secured, or even waived in some cases, when one of these schools wants to hire an uncertified teacher.

In my 18 years as a headmaster of three (3) international schools, I hired at least 500 teachers after interviewing several thousand candidates. Frankly, the lack of certification never affected my hiring decisions, which were based on perceived competence, personality and demonstrated impact on students and their learning. And whenever we hired someone who wasn’t certified, we always found a way to work with our US accrediting agency, which did insist on teacher certification.

Accordingly, no teacher with at least one (and preferably two) years of successful teaching experience should ever be deterred from seeking an international school assignment. And even at this late date, there are new vacancy listings every day at

Now That The Job Fairs Are Over: What Next?

With all of this winter’s major recruitment fairs now over, what should those candidates still seeking a position be doing?

First, understand that the busy fair season coming to an end does NOT mean an end to recruiting! New vacancies are still cropping up every day, in every corner of the world. Just a quick glance at the vacancy list at reveals this fact. Moreover, many schools, particularly those in Europe, do not require staff members to announce their intentions until April or even May. Your search should therefore continue. And in fact, several of the leading recruitment fair agencies sponsor fairs in June to assist schools in filling late vacancies.

So if you are just starting the process or if you have been actively seeking an international school position, and haven’t been successful, there are plenty of options still available and coming up. Here are some options:

1. Make sure your online resume is complete, including at least two (2) confidential recommendations from current or former supervisors. The IJN (Instant Job Notification) option may also be helpful in promoting a timely application.

2.  Review your resume and make sure your experience over the past 2 years is clear and complete.

3. Create a cover note that features your own assessment of your major strengths as a teacher, counselor, etc.

4. If you got interviewed at a job fair and was not offered a position, ask that service agency if there was anything in your file that might have deterred interest in your candidacy. No one likes the “confidential” evaluation process; but the fact is that recruiters rely heavily on this resource.

5. Finally, decide that you will consider a position in most countries of the world, if the school is appropriate and interesting. Sometimes one must fore go the desire to teach in Paris or London, in order to get one’s first position in an international school. Once you have two years of good performance in any international school, you become a highly valued candidate in this network.

And please remember that “perseverance” is the most critical quality one needs for professional success in any field!

Important Job Fair Tips

February welcomes the major international job fairs to several locations in the USA and Canada, where 300-400 international schools will be seeking over 1,000 new educators for their staffs. For the candidates attending Search Associates, ISS, Queens College, or the University of Northern Iowa job fairs, the experience can be exciting, and even exhilarating. At the same time it can be confusing  and disappointing for some.

Here are potentially the most disconcerting possibilities a candidate might face at one of these well-run, exciting events:

1) There have already been several fairs in London and various Asian cities, as well as considerable online recruitment be many schools. As a result the job you had your eye on, or even several you hoped to get interviewed for, may have already been filled by the time you get to the job fair.

2) For the very popular school sites (Western Europe and some Asian cities), the interview schedule for the school’s recruiter may be filled very quickly, and before you get to sign up. For some schools, there are long lines in the opening session when quick interviews may or may not lead to getting a full and serious interview.

3) And if you do get a full interview, chance and luck may place you as one among many excellent choices for a given school and position.

4) Increasingly, many schools who do make an offer expect, and may even insist on a very quick response. You may want to complete your interview schedule, but  you could be required to reject an offer to do so.

5) If you are fortunate enough to experience the euphoria of multiple job offers, you may face some serious indecision or doubts, and you may not be granted the time to resolve them.

The best way to prepare for these contingencies is this: Do not got to the fair with a fixed or limited idea of where the best job prospect for you might be. Do seek to get an offer only in the countries and from the schools you have targeted. But be open to the many other interesting possibilities that could easily present themselves at these fine job fairs.

For example, in your free time, attend as many of the school introductory sessions as you can. Many happy educators have ended up in schools and countries they never considered before the fair.

Above all, be open-minded, flexible and positive. This experience, if used properly, can lead to a sound understanding of what international schools are all about, as well as one or more concrete offers. And if that doesn’t happen at the fair, stay in the game through and other sites, as no fair accommodates even the majority of international schools with openings this year.

And please remember: if you accept a position (even verbally) offered by a school, reneging on that acceptance could seriously damage you reputation. Be careful not to get so caught up in the “fever” of the fair that you agree to an assignment for which you are doubtful or unsure.

Three Key Questions to Ask Students

Every concerned school leader needs to have the means to monitor what students are experiencing in their school. Here is a proven, quick way to get a handle on how students are experiencing their education and school, as well as a window on potential problems.

I have found that most kids are very honest in their responses to impromptu questions. Here are the three that always served me well:

1. “How hard do you have to work in your classes to get a B? Or to get an A?”
2.  “Do you feel that your teachers really care about you and your learning progress?”
3.  “Aside from studies, are you finding school-sponsored activities that engage you and are fun?”

Student answers to these questions, solicited informally in the corridors, are surprisingly candid. They give the principal or head an immediate insight into how school is being experienced; what level of demand for quality is taking place in the classroom; and whether students perceive staff as caring and supportive.

Obviously, when the answers suggest less than desired qualities in several students experiences, the next level of inquiry and action can be undertaken.

Student Writing Programs Are Seriously Distorted

Whwnever I speak to an elementary or secondary student, I always question them closely about the kind and frequency of the writing assignments they get. Almost invariably I hear the same story: “We are writing “Book Reports” each month (elementary kids); We are writing paragraphs on any topic we choose (middle school); we do a major paper in grade 11 that requires research , quotations, and proper citing techniques.”

Since leaving school, how many Book Reports have you been required or asked to write? How many formal “research” papers have been assigned to you by your employers? How is it that K-12 teachers are still locked in this horrible practice of making kids adapt writing skills that will never be either required or helpful in real life?

The alternatives are painfully clear! Have students write a news article on specific national, international or local events (one that could be published). Have them write persuasive arguments to their parents, friends or public officials. How about film or book reviews designed to encourage or dissuade potential readers and viewers? Couldn’t they get familiar with someone in their family that runs a business, and explore how it could be expanded or run better?

My point is that there are so many practical, realistic writing tasks teachers could assign that would build useful skills and have lasting value, if only a little thought and creativity were put into creating the assignments.

Is this too much to ask of our teachers? Can we put an end to Book Reports and 11th grade research papers?

8 Top Tips: Preparing for and Conducting a Successful Job Interview

Over the next three months, you will most likely be interviewed through Skype, or in person at a recruitment fair or private meeting. This is the period during which the leading international schools will recruit at least 80% of their new staff.

Exhaustive lists of criteria and strategies for creating successful applications and interviews abound, but here are some tips that can determine whether your first choice school makes you an offer. These are distilled from over 25 years of experience recruiting candidates for schools, working closely with international school recruiters, and interviewing over 5,000 candidates.

Most schools will want to interview you in person or via Skype, before they make you an offer, although this is not always the case. Your success then depends very much on how you prepare for the interview and how you conduct yourself. Here are a few vital tips for this process.

1) Recommendations from Supervisors

Very few recruiters will ever get to see you in the classroom before they make the hiring decision. They may need to rely on your recommendations from past and current supervisors, and the best schools will conduct extensive phone check-outs to get a better handle on the person they are considering. They also are aware of the chronic reluctance of US administrators to be forthcoming, so be sure to include any international school references in your experience.

Hence, you should inform your references about the different kind of schools you are applying to and let them know the factors you would like them to highlight. Their written and oral comments should include placing you in the top 3%, 10% or 20% of the faculty they have worked with, both in terms of teaching abilities and personal characteristics. It’s much better if they are prepared for these questions.

2) Your Personal Presentation

Many international schools exist in relatively conservative societies and serve a largely upper middle class constituency. This often means that, like it or not, your personal style in dress, accessories, hair style, etc. could be important factors in a hiring decision. It’s best to dress in a conservative fashion and refrain from showcasing things such as nose rings, inappropriate clothing, or even extravagant jewelry.

3) Listen Carefully to the Questions Asked

Many school heads are experienced interviewers and have distilled their approach to a number of vital questions. If you are not sure at any time what they are asking, be straightforward and ask for clarification. They will appreciate your desire to answer them with clarity.

Your own good questions are another major indicator of intelligence and understanding. See my last point on on key topics to consider when developing your own list of questions.

4) Learning Results

The best schools will focus sharply on learning results, rather than just teacher “inputs.” So your best strategy is to provide evidence of student work and accomplishments under your guidance. This may be written work, art projects, exam questions that challenge and promote thinking skills, videos of performances, and student presentations.

Don’t be afraid to bring these to the interview, or find a way to discuss and present them even if not requested. Most recruiters will be very interested and impressed and for highly desirable schools, this is the very best way to set yourself apart from the competition.

5)  Use of Video

Since recruiters won’t be able to see you teach in person, they will appreciate any capacity you have to create a filmed lesson that can be shared. This can make a major difference in selecting one candidate over another; But of course, only if it demonstrates effective teaching strategies. If you develop these clips, have a knowledgeable educational supervisor review them before sending them out. Don’t worry whether filming your lessons is appropriate. It is completely ethical and allows you to put your best foot forward and to show them your classroom skills.

6) After School Coaching and Teaching Skills

Most international schools attempt to mount substantial after school programs in sports, theater, games, IT, cooking and almost every other skill appropriate to K-12 students. Thus your ability to add something significant to these will make you a more attractive candidate. Good coaches are a primary quest of every school, but if you don’t have athletic expertise, you should be prepared to offer at least two types of activities that you would be willing to teach after school.

7) The Personal Factor

Your personal characteristics are even more important to international school recruiters than to your local school districts at home. In these schools you are expected to fit into and enhance a community of expatriates, and to be able to reassure anxious parents from many nations that you are not only be an effective teacher, but a positive role model for their children. Invariably you will be drawn into the broader school community; and your potential impact on the well-being, optimism and morale of other staff members is a matter of serious concern.

This means that very positive, engaging people, with excellent social skills and personal resilience will get the nod every time.

8) Ask Your Own Questions

Know that the best candidates, at a crucial point in the interview, turn the process around and ask thoughtful questions about the school. Inquiring about the school’s goals, concerns, the most difficult challenges the school and staff face, and other important topics show you’re seriously interested in the school.

The idea here is to remind the recruiter that in the same way they are evaluating you, you are carefully considering whether this is a school where you want to work. Probing, thoughtful questions, focused mainly on learning issues, (not benefits and remuneration), are clearly the most effective way to impress your prospective employer.

International Recruitment Fairs: the Pros and Cons

As you know, over the next few months a number of leading recruitment agencies will host fairs throughout the world, which are designed to produce direct contact and hiring decisions for hundreds of international schools and thousands of candidates. For those unfamiliar with this phenomenon, it may be difficult to gauge the benefits of participating, and to weigh the drawbacks.

I will assume here that the typical candidate has had some positive contact with at least one school that has shown interest in interviewing her/him. It is certainly wise for all candidates to seek the specific interest of a few schools well before December. And it is increasingly the case that schools are offering jobs and filling positions well before the recruitment fairs even begin.

Nevertheless, taking part in a recruitment fair conducted by ISS, Search Associates, Council of International Schools (CIS), the University of Northern Iowa, Queens College and others has these distinct advantages:

1) You get to meet the school head, and often a principal, in person, and the chance to make your case as a desirable candidate.

2) There are anywhere from 70 to 220 international schools at these fairs, so your chances of landing at least one solid offer are very good. (Check out carefully which schools will attend.)

3) You can also meet many experienced international school teachers, and learn about the challenges and benefits of an international teaching career.

4) You can and should engage any prospective employer about the school’s mission and focus, the major qualities they are seeking in candidates, and the benefits and drawbacks in working in their schools and living in their environments.

5) You will, through this process, attract interest and even offers from schools in countries you had never considered. Many of those hired end up in places they had never anticipated.

You must bear in mind, however, that your chances of success at a fair are greatly enhanced if you have had positive contact with at least a few of the schools that will be there; this can best be accomplished by seeking positions through agencies, such as TIE and, well before the fairs begin.

Now for some of the discouraging issues in attending one of these fairs:

1) The travel, lodging and fees can add up to a considerable expense, coupled with days off from your current school.

2) There is usually some fervor, intensity and often-long lines in getting signed up for an interview with the schools of your choice.

3) More than ever, schools are asking for decisions and commitments almost immediately after the initial interview. This can be disconcerting if you have not been reviewing the information about that school before attending the fair.

4) You may be a very effective teacher, but not strong in the interview, or there may be physical or stylistic handicaps that detract from your presentation.

5) If you are a strong candidate and get more than one offer, the pressure to make a decision without adequate time to consider all the ramifications can be very disconcerting.

6) It may be that a desired vacancy was filled at an earlier fair, which often happens towards the end of the cycle. And at best, roughly half of the candidates attending can expect to be offered a position as a result of the fair.

So the choice of whether to attend an international school recruitment fair is complicated, and highly individual. You should at least ask schools you are in touch with if they require your attendance there: will Skype or some other alternative enable them to make an equally informed decision?

There is some excitement to these events though, and they are well organized. You may meet many interesting people, and learn first-hand what it means to be part of an international school staff.

What Kind of International School Do You Want To Be Part Of?

As in every network of schools, there is a considerable range of excellence in international schools. But how does one begin to appreciate the differences and perceive the real educational leaders? Your first decision is whether you want to be in an environment that promotes and reinforces learning as its first priority. There are very comfortable assignments, with good salaries and comfortable environments, that do not push hard for educational excellence. The point is you need to know what kind of environment you want, and how to find out where that exists.

If you are very insistent that your potential school be a leading innovator with a strong commitment to continual improvement of student learning, you will be in line to work at one of the very best international schools. And here is how you find out what drives that institution:

1) What are their provisions for professional development, and what percentage of their budget is devoted to this? (Should be at least 2%).

2) How do they express their central mission verbally, as many of the written mission statements may be very much alike? You need to ask what is their main criteria for selecting staff, which will give you insight into this question.

3) Be sure to speak to a few of the teachers at any prospective employer, and ask them about the quality of their colleagues and the school’s commitment to learning. And remember, strong educational leadership is not always welcomed by every staff member.

4) Be prepared to share your examples of student work under your direction; tests and assessments you have used; and samples of your best lesson plans. If they are not very interested in these, you will have learned a lot about the school’s priorities.

5) Check whether the writing and public speaking standards are expressed in “essential agreements” within departments. This will indicate a strong sense of purpose, or the lack thereof!

6) Ask the principal or head what are the most important characteristics of the staff they are seeking to hire. Do you fit into this scenario?

These approaches will enhance your understanding of the kind of school and staff you may be joining. And please remember, this is by far the most serious and significant factor in your decision—far more important than the school’s location or physical plant.