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.