Host National Principal Vs Foreign Hire — Is One Better Suited for the Position?

Dear Dr. Spilchuk / ISR On Line Consultant

The issue of the principal being a host national as opposed to foreigner is a big debate here. As I am the only educator on the School Board, I battle sometimes about prioritizing the schools needs. As a result, I have been requested to write an analysis of the qualities of a successful international school, mainly the characteristics of a successful international school principal. I tend to stress the need for a native English speaker and a qualified foreigner in that position; solely because we haven’t found a host national who fulfills the leadership role properly AND speaks competent English

I’d like to know what qualities are the most valuable in a principal: e.g. nationality, language silks, educational background, good relations with the teachers, academic knowledge leadership skills, competing skills,  social networking, business skills, administration skills, etc. If you can give me  a prioritized list or general description, I would really appreciate it…Click HERE to read complete statement & Dr. Spilchuk’s response.

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10 thoughts on “Host National Principal Vs Foreign Hire — Is One Better Suited for the Position?

  1. I have worked for both local hire and overseas principals. In general I can’t say any have been up to the job and the majority have been downright unpleasant. Sadly many expat/western Principals I have worked for seem to relish being able to treat staff in ways they would not get away with in their home countries, seemingly enjoying the fact that we clearly know this. Headships on the international circuit seem to attract the very people who should not be given positions of this nature.

    Local hired Principals, in my experience, treat expats as commodities and are often suspicious and distrustful of suggestions, perceiving them as criticisms and all too often local traditions of the boss as ‘master’ prevail and damage any potential positive collaboration.

    Definitely the worst though is the power mad expat Head who sells out his colleagues and mistreats them whilst promoting incompetent friends and family to their inner circle.

    A decent Principal, it seems, is harder to find than a decent school – in some regions, any way.


  2. Surely the” best person for the job” is the answer here. There should be no discrimination be it by gender, race or age. Every school has different needs and it is up to the appointment committee put together a sound job description and set of criteria. I work in a school in Africa where the Principals are all locals but have a huge amount of support in terms of western mentors. Eventually the aim is that the school will be completely run by local staff. Technically it is not an International School but it would be good to see that happening in a few more schools around the world.


  3. I am in my first IS admin gig (by definition one has to start somewhere!), having just taken the helm at an international school in Saudi Arabia, so this discussion is particularly relevant to me. I would add to the list of qualifications:

    The ability to delegate. Trusting colleagues (yes, teachers, counselors, and anyone else hired by the school who interacts with the students are our colleagues) enough to authorize them to make decisions on behalf of the group, when such an arrangement is more effective than a full team process, not only is essential, but says a lot about the values of an administrator.

    A good sense of humor. This often arises from being able to keep things in perspective, arrive at appropriate priorities, and chuckle inwardly at the absurdity of the drama we create.

    Flexibility and the ability to learn lesson relatively quickly.

    A sound psychological “balance” (is that the best word?). What I have found is that there are people in almost every workplace with what might be called pyschological issues. These usually don’t present too great a problem as long as healthy boundaries exist. But when a person with such issues moves into a position of power, his or her issues become magnified, and a nightmarish scene can emerge.

    Over and over in the pages of ISR we see in the teacher reviews of their administrators this quality of monstrosity being described. In fact there seem to be so few glowing reviews of administrators. I told my staff at one of our first meetings that one of my professional goals was to reverse this trend and treat them in such a way that I would receive their respect AND positive ISR reviews!

    The dearth of positive administrator reviews coming from teachers saddens me deeply because people in positions of power – teachers with their students and administrators with their teachers – have such capacity to make life miserable or wonderful for those in their sphere of influence. It is one of our greatest responsibilities to remember the power we all wield.

    I believe that administration, like teaching, is a noble art and profession, but has become so overwhelming in its demands that it can begin to crush those who take it up. This in itself would challenge our psychological balance even if we were otherwise well grounded.

    So the final qualification I would add is the ability to self-care, what Covey called, “sharpening the saw.” All seven habits are essential for an administrator, but genuine self-care can make the difference between moving to the dark side in one’s wielding of power, forgetting one’s roots as a teacher and setting up an adversarial environment when this need not and should not exist.


  4. I think China Teacher misses the point. The article is not about accreditation. There are many accredited schools with lousy admin in place, be they host country nationals or foreign hires. Accreditation does not assure quality leadership.

    The focus, it seem to me, of the article is on which person would make the best school principal, a local hire or a foreign hire. I feel that some excellent points have been made in the above posts, and all things being equal, if I were doing the hiring I would choose the person I thought would interact best with the staff and students. There are plenty of well-educated and experienced authoritarians out there who are impossible to work with in or outside the classroom.

    Principals interact daily with a large variety of personalities, and one very important aspect of doing such is making each person they interact with feel valued and welcomed as a staff member. This skill can’t be learned in a book. Either you have it or you don’t. And if you don’t have it you’re doomed for failure no matter what your education or past international experience.


  5. Dr. Spilchuk presents a good list but I really don’t see the point because a great “shortcut” is easily available. It’s called accreditation — and accreditation of an international school by a recognized agency pretty much covers those items and assures the legitimacy of the school. The major US agencies who do such accreditations are:

    Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA)

    Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)

    Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)

    New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)

    North Central Association of Schools and Colleges (NCASC)

    Northwest Association of College and Schools (NACS)

    Prominent European agencies include the European Council of International Schools (ECIS) and the Council of British International Schools (COBIS). Canada and Australia also have national bodies accrediting international schools.

    There have been instances of deceptive schools listing fake, official-sounding accreditations, or claiming accreditations they don’t really possess. Very basic research on a school can reveal if such is the case. So, looking for legitimate accreditation can save some time in evaluating a school, but basic caution and due diligence is still necessary.


  6. I think that hiring someone locally with experience in INternational Schools is the best option. Many times it is the case that the principals don’t even speak the language of the country, making it difficult for him/her to interpret laws, traditions, etc. they need to be surrounded by locals who speak English in order to translate everything, to serve as interpreters when there is an inspection from the local government, etc.


  7. The question is Host national vs Local hire for international school leadership. I agree with the above response that the school leader should be as international as the school – meaning regardless of nationality has achieved a level of globalism that makes you go beyond the biases of national identity. Regardless of origin, a strong national identity does influence leadership style, and this is where problems occur in a community made up of international staff/students.
    However many schools with the international label on them are schools for local students who are seeking an ‘international curriculum’, but lay a strong emphasis on preserving national identity. In such cases a qualified local will have advantages – and knowing the language used for teaching (English, German, French, Chinese etc) is important in addition to teaching qualification and administrative qualifications. Having been involved in hiring school leaders for such schools I know that the appointment of locals is not just about saving money but to avoid the problems caused by the cultural gap between foreign leaders and the student/parent population. However it is true finding a qualified/experienced local with an international mindset is rare and many bad choices are made.


  8. Experience and qualifications for the position are all important. Here is a satement that may challenge some people’s thinking, Heads of School, (we may call them, Director, Headmaster, Principal) in international settings, should have had experience of living and working in a number of international settings. This therefore precludes most host national administrators but even just as importantly puts those school leaders who arrive having only taught in their home country out of the frame. In my long leadership experience on the international scene people who arrive from great schools and are sold as such a great catch, and then go straight into Director positions cause immense problems, they may be great people but unwittingly cause immense damage.

    Host nationals in most instances also have a very narrow arcahic or different view of education, there are exceptions but lets be honest here the majority of appointments of host national to a head of school position is made to save money or appoint some one from the family or social or business group of the owners. As an educator I would avoid those schools like the plague.


  9. The specification to have a principal who is not swayed by local patronage or a political agenda is just about impossible in many countries. Organization by certain groups, especially the affluent, is inherent in many many private schools, leading to schools being arbitarily run by the select few, and patronized by the corresponding select community of learners. Find this information out as best you can before you go to the school. The principal could be just a puppet.


  10. Spilchuk
    You do not mention anything about being able to read a balance sheet, have a business brain be able to manage multiple projects on time or show evidence of being able to manage a multi million dollar budget.

    Whilst academics are clearly important qualities to neglect the art of being able to run a school financially is a huge mistake these days


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