How the Principal Affects YOUR International Experience

One of the most common comments ISR hears from teachers in International Schools is how Karma is hopefully going to rain down (hard!) upon their administrators. We all agree some  truly awful administrators are out there who treat students, parents, and teachers with complete disregard. But, do Principals of International Schools also deserve some of the blame?

Until now, many notoriously poor Principals have simply slipped under the radar, while the Head/Director receives the majority, if not all, the blame. What impact does a Principal have in making a school one to be sought out or avoided, at interview and after working with them. Can a Principal, and your working relationship, make or break your international teaching experience? We invite you to comment just below.

If you would like to evaluate YOUR principal on the ISR web site, click here to visit our new RATE MY PRINCIPAL feature.

18 Responses to How the Principal Affects YOUR International Experience

  1. Anonymous says:

    Definitely a mixed bag, with the very few being exceptionally brilliant ones. Most of them tend to fall in the shady side with the ” king of the castle ” syndrome. I find that since international schools are essentially private, away from the governing curriculum country ( i.e. American and British schools on different soils are much more free from the constraints of national curriculum if they were on their own soil ) tends to build the whole ” king of the castle ” syndrome in principals. The autonomy gives them a sense of false power that tend to lean towards unethical practices. One principal I worked with got drunk and sexually harassed one of the female administrators at a staff party. Another principal tend to give more ” favours ” to pretty female teachers and thus, allowed for teacher bullying amongst staff. Some are just plain strange and weird with severe social skills problems. It’s almost as if the distance away from the national soil or curriculum allows them to be who they are as professionals……and it’s not always pretty.

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  2. jcs says:

    i have worked under three principals at the same school (of course, same owner) and there is a big difference. a good principal is able to step in and provide a buffer between a weak owner and teachers and is able to “defend” or protect teachers from misinformation or accusation. our first principal at this school was awesome. she had lots of experience, cared about the students and teaches and had been there long enough to have built a rapport with the owners and superintendent. the two that came after were horrible…”I” men who blamed teachers for their mistakes. it is a good idea for there to be a forum to rate them…..i also think that current users need to keep in mind that a new administrator or principal can change a bad school into a good school, or visa versa. keep that in mind when reading old posts. with that said, more of us need to leave positive posts for good administrators and principals so that it is not only negative reviews that are posted…

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  3. Anonymous says:

    I agree with many of the comments. I do believe that the principal of a school can have a lot to do with one’s international teaching experience. Yes, they are not perfect but since they have agreed to take on that role, it is expected that they will conduct all school and staff affairs with some fairness and justice or at least try to. Expat teachers need to feel safe and secure, with the knowledge that if a situation arises at the school, the principal is able to act as a neutral arbitrator ensuring that the matter is handled with fairness. Instead, we have principals (and in many instances, Heads as well) who will side with the owner, the parents and the students and are ready to bash the teacher on the head, making threats and all sorts accusations. Teachers are then left to defend themselves and this becomes a very negative experience for them. One feels that no one can be trusted at the school. I often wished that I had access to a court where someone at least can hear my side of the story and I am given a fair trial but if you work in corrupt places, there is no fairness and justice because owners are able to bribe the judges, if the matter is taken to court. So what does the expat teacher really do?

    No matter how many questions you ask at the interview, the reality of the school only surfaces once you are in the school and you begin to experience that environment first hand. Then only one begins to see the ‘dark’ side of the principal or head of dept.

    Every principal I worked with only wants teachers to be seen and not heard – teachers are to receive their orders and not question anything. Any form of individual expression is taken as ‘being a rebel or a troublemaker’. I am seeing this at my present school and I have just been here for 3 weeks. I can sense already that both the vice-principal and the assistant principal are not happy with me being outspoken, questioning some of the practices at the school, some of the decisions they have taken without consulting with the teachers and giving honest feedback. I can see already that it is going to be a huge challenge working with them. It seems it will be just a matter of time when both of them, will request for me to meet with them, so they can ‘bash me over the head’ and issue threats!……..and since I have been ‘bashed over the head too many times by principals/heads’…I guess I will react!…..enough is enough!!!……but will prepare my response, of course!…….

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    • anonymous says:

      You’ve been there only 3 weeks and you are being “outspoken” and “questioning some of the practices at school”?!

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      • anonymous says:

        somewhere out there, there is a bewildered administrator saying, ” No matter how many questions you ask at the interview, the reality of the teacher only surfaces once you are in the school and you begin to experience that environment first hand. Then only one begins to see the ‘dark’ dark side…

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    • jcs says:

      if the problem is with “every” principal as you mentioned, maybe its not them? for the first year at least, i would keep my head down and find out what is going on and why procedures are as they are. a school is NOT a direct democracy. your view is not as important as theirs and they don’t have any obligation to get your opinion on every (or any!) moves they make!! sorry..but your posts reads as a person who will never be happy…. overseas teaching is a very good field to be in even in tough schools. i have always found other teachers to bond with and students to care about….in short, something to love at the place!

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  4. Jennifer says:

    I have spent 7 years internationally as well as 7 years stateside. I agree that it is a mixed bag.

    I think in international schools there is always the issue of what the board wants that can force admin to make decisions they don’t always personally agree with. However, since we have no job security, it is these reviews that can not only reflect on admin, but the school as well. Job security is important, so if admin fires without going through proper channels, they will get a bad review on here. Anyhow, the point I am getting at is, bad admin can make your life hell thus resulting in bad reviews on here.

    I always put my best foot forward, try to be professional and always keep the peace (even if it means biting my tongue or taking some mild abuse). Maybe it’s my lack of job security that makes me do this, but I enjoy my job and want to keep it.

    I do feel that I work under admin’s thumb as I could be fired at any minute without repucussion…..and I loathe that feeling. Alas, I am an international teacher.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    I have spent 7 years internationally as well as 7 years stateside. I agree that it is a mixed bag.

    I think in international schools there is always the issue of what the board wants that can force admin to make decisions they don’t always personally agree with. However, since we have no job security, it is these reviews that can not only reflect on admin, but the school as well. Job security is important, so if admin fires without going through proper channels, they will get a bad review on here. Anyhow, the point I am getting at is, bad admin can make your life hell thus resulting in bad reviews on here.

    I always put my best foot forward, try to be professional and always keep the peace (even if it means biting my tongue or taking some mild abuse). Maybe it’s my lack of job security that makes me do this, but I enjoy my job and want to keep it.

    I do feel that I work under admin’s thumb as I could be fired at any minute without repucussion…..and I loathe that feeling. Alas, I am an international teacher.

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  6. Trav45 says:

    There you go again, ISR. This is an overly negative topic that again focuses on the negatives of overseas teaching. It would have been so easy to say how have principals helped, or at least asked for the good AND bad, instead of just focusing on the problems!

    I have had excellent and ghastly principals both internationally and at home in the States; there is no reason why international would be any worse than schools in your home country. In fact, principals internationally often bear the brunt of disgruntled parents and act as a shield for the teachers.

    Others may be a shill for money-grubbing owners, but I have real horror stories of principals back home buckling under parental pressure and throwing their teachers under the bus, too.

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    • anonymous says:

      I agree, and appreciate the balance that you bring to the topic. I think it is important to remember that principals in international schools are also members of a community in a way that admin. in the US may or may not be. In other words, an inexperienced principal overseas might still provide coaching opportunities for your child, run the student council or wear any number of hats, while at the same time coordinate academic programs and deal with discipline. The stress of being under the microscope both personally as well as professionally is an added factor. It is a balancing act that is not always successful–meeting everyones’ needs is difficult. But the job description is generally vastly different that that of a district principal in the states, or a head teacher back home.

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    • jcs says:

      yes trav45…bad principals are everywhere. there are good principals in the international schools and i for one, will use this forum to compliment their efforts!

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  7. lal says:

    I have been working in International schools for 12 years and like most people have said, I have had both good and bad principals. To answer the question how a principal affects your international experience, I strongly believe that a principal, good or bad, can have much more impact than the Head.

    Working for an inspiring principal that has excellent leadership skills, is passionate about education and school improvement, who is caring and eager to constantly learn about new practice and educational thought creates the most amazingly collegial, motivating and effective school environment. Obviously the opposite is true of a poor principal which can have such devastating effects on a school.

    In my experience teachers generally just “get on with it” when working for a bad principal but the constant griping and gossip about the principal negatively effects the whole climate.

    I also think that principals don’t have to be perfect. That teachers are fairly forgiving as long as they can see strengths in certain areas. I once worked with a principal who had a particular talent for hiring, was passionate and knowledgeable about education but was disorganised and quite a gossip. He is not one that I would categorise as bad because we could see his strengths and work around the rest.

    Thank you ISR for the new rate your principal feature. I think it is really fantastic and it will be great to be able to see the brilliant, the terrible and those in between when considering my next move.

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  8. Allen says:

    As some have indicated in the posts above, I have had worse
    principals in my home country, the United States, because many were hired to meet the political correct standards. Also, I have enjoyed international schools because the goal has been to educate, not indoctrinate as many American schools do. The
    politicalization of the Ameican public schools and colleges has
    made U. S. education a less desirable place to work. I have been fortunate that none of my international principals have been from the United States. Also, my international principals did not have a political agenda like those in the United States.
    The key is to work with a principal that has professional
    goals that are similar to your own. If possible, communicate
    with past and current teachers of your chosen school before
    accepting a position. Also, review the comments on teacher
    forums.

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  9. Michelle says:

    Having worked for seven international schools, I can say that in each time it was the principal who did the hiring in each case. And, like “Don McMahon” says above, it was a real mixed bag.

    One was obviously NOT qualified to hire and the group he brought in were all new to international teaching and way over their heads, and for him, that lack of interviewing skill and bringing in totally unqualified people really brought down the school overall. Most bailed.
    Another principal was not an educator, but rather the friend of the director and he also ran the school into the ground with a complete lack of knowledge of academia. The school grounds and buildings, however, all got a new coat of paint which was sort of nice except a third of the students left when their families got wind of how poorly the school was run, the utter lack of materials, and the nonexistent credibility of the school in general.
    Another principal stood up to the board and head of school, and, importantly got benefits for the teachers who became fiercely loyal to her and her academic agenda of improving the school.

    So, again, the bag is mixed, but it IS definitely very true that the principals of a school can set the tone, define the course of improvement and/or disaster of a school. As they are the immediate supervisor of most teachers, take a very, very close look at who they are when you sign up for a contract. It’s well worth the while!

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  10. LittleMissSunshine says:

    What a difference a Head makes! My experience of teaching at the same international primary school for the last 14 years shows that the Head is really the ‘standard bearer’ of the school in that he/she is the ‘model’ and sets the tone for the whole school culture. After (just about) surviving 12 years with a Driver whose policy was divide-and-rule and then an ineffectual Amiable Head (who was consequently sacked by the Board), I feel we finally have a truly effective Head who listens, thinks, feels and acts in the true interest of the school, teachers and kids. She has only been in post for a month and we’ve only worked for a week but already things have improved and are getting better and better …. long may it last!!!

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  11. We removed your comment because it is not consistent with the thread of the blog. We invite your to post your question on our forum where you can create your own category topic.

    Paul @ ISR

    >________________________________

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  12. Once in Tokyo says:

    My experience of International School Principals/Head Teachers is that they are ‘the meat in the sandwich’ and are the ones having to fire the bullets for the schools owners, which is not always welcomed by staff. In most instances, that is not a pleasant position to be in. Having said that, I guess if they didn’t like that aspect of the job they shouldn’t be doing it. Like one of the replies above, I have seen far more unqualified, uncaring and unloved Principals in my home country, than overseas. However, the biggest ‘gripe’ I have with overseas Principals is that the ‘boys’ club’ is more evident than at home and there appears to be a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality in most schools. If you are in the wrong ‘crowd’ as a staff member you see many prejudices shown towards you than is natural.

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  13. Don McMahon says:

    Having worked with 6 principals and vice-principals overseas I can say that they were a real mixed bag! 4 of the 6 were great leaders and fine professionals, 2 were sycophants and toadies, more interested in their own interests than anyone else. there is no hard or fast ¨rule¨ about bad or good principals. I met more poor ones in my homw country than overseas. Don’t forget that they are the product of their environment and that most of them never received any formal education or support in respect to training or mentoring. I often mentored my principals as they struggled to learn what to do. they are people just like us and make the same mistakes and grand gestures we co. The actual meaning of principal is from the English tradition of ¨head teacher¨ or principal teacher. they are supposed to be the leader and standard bearer among other teachers but the American Industrialized model has taken over and they are now on the administration side of the fence. that is their greatest challenge and failing so often.

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