Country-Native Directors & Principals

A recent ISR Forum post about “Country-Native Directors and Principals” caught our attention, sparking a conversation among ISR staff. We ask, What effect, if any, do country-native leaders have on a school? With the word “international” in a school’s name, does it not stand to reason a host national could justifiably fill the position? Or does “international school” really just mean Western School?

The ISR Forum post to which I refer states:

“I’m starting to think about future possibilities and one thing which niggles me is this: I’ve noticed that, while many schools have a head teacher (Director and/or Principal) who comes from or has trained in the country from which their curriculum originates (eg UK for a British school, USA for an American school), there are some schools where the head teacher comes from the country in which the school is based.

Now, maybe I’m being unreasonable here, and I know that there will be some of these heads who are great leaders and managers, just as there are incompetent UK and US heads, but I have this feeling when I see these schools that alarm bells should be ringing about the school and, in particular, its culture. Does that seem fair?”

….In regards to this post, consider that School Heads/Directors play a far different role than do School Principals. Directors are largely responsible for the business-oriented part of an International School and, as such, represent the owners. A country-native Head would surely understand how to get bureaucracy-intensive procedures accomplished and would speak the local language.

School Principals, in contrast to Heads/Directors, assume responsibility for academics, student discipline, teacher concerns and parent relations. One would think it goes without saying that a background, or at least a clear understanding of the offered curriculum would be essential for the position, unless the Principal is simply a line-manager for the school owner.

The topic of Country-Native Heads & Principals is far-reaching with many implications. If you’ve had first-hand experience working with a country-native Director or Principal, we invite you to join the discussion.

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10 thoughts on “Country-Native Directors & Principals

  1. In my experience look out for the following in difficult countries: A head of school who has been at the school 6+ years and or a head of school who is in a relationship with a country-native. All schools need new blood and anyone who stays in what is considered a difficult or dangerous post is there for reasons other than the best interests of the school.


  2. Ask as many probing questions about background as you possibly can, particularly if the Head as been there in excess of 6 years.


  3. I worked at an international school for 6 years and during that time we had a local Executive Director who had replaced an international one. Said local director was found to be incompetent and was very unceremoniously relieved of his duties one morning ….the Board of Directors changed the lock to his office overnight. He sued the pants off the Board subsequently(included in the lawsuit was loss of income for 12 months, post traumatic stress disorder and lastly, housing allowance for 12 months. Despite this major debacle, he was replaced by another local who chose to fill his pockets from the school coffers. The penny finally dropped and the school then appointed a foreign head. Sadly, the staff are now mostly local, while the students hail mainly from one continent. The school offers the Cambridge Curriculum is bungling along, its facilities are superior but thats where it all ends …the word INTERNATIONAL should be removed from the school’s name.


  4. ISR read my mind. I’ve been thinking about this very issue for quite some time. I would tend to stay away from schools that have a local as a head-teacher, principal or director, particularly if they are related to the owner. However, in saying this I must also be truthful about my current school. My current director, principal and deputy are all Americans and I feel that they are very unethical and form a cadre against the teaching faculty. They even read our emails and don’t hide that they do so. The principal emails us to inflate grades and one time CC’d the director in on such an email request. My current administration is clearly looking after numero uno, themselves. One secured work for their spouse who does little to nothing at the school, the other is climbing over everyone to promote themselves up the career ladder and the other is quite old and will do what is needed to keep the pay checks rolling in. So, yes I would still stay away from schools that have a local as head-teacher, principal or director, but don’t think that foreigners are any better. Do your homework and read the ISR reviews and research online about the administrators.


  5. Based on my personal experience, if the head of school is a local and also is the person completely in charge of the daily operations of the school— STAY AWAY unless you are also from the same country/culture. Western ideas of education are not the same as education in many countries and you might find yourself in a situation where there are things you are being asked to do that are for you immoral and unethical. For example I was told I had to give passing grades to students who were from politically powerful families. At another “school” I was told that teachers must discipline students by having students hold their arms up in the air for at least 30 minutes (physical abuse!). I quit both jobs which then reflected poorly on me and my teaching record. No schools wanted to hear the reason why I left after just one year, they assumed I was a bad teacher. So my advice is, don’t take that risk. It simply isn’t worth it and always remember that teaching internationally is like the old, Wild West because there are NO protection for teachers’ rights and you can quickly become blacklisted by employment agencies for leaving jobs after finishing just 1 school year, instead of the 2 in the contract. Completely unfair? Yes but that is how it works. And if you are lucky enough to be at an international school where it works similar to your home country and your rights as a teacher are respected, etc. then stay there because I guarantee you the grass may look greener on the other side but it is more likely to be grass filled with fleas, snakes, and poop!


  6. I worked at a premium international school in my home country. Despite being a local, I went through the ranks until I reached senior leadership. 3 Anglosaxons and I made up the SLT. I was the go to guy when the international head was on his travels. The school looked into opening a second branch on another side of the country. I was supposedly the first choice as to be founding head. Unfortunately international and national shareholders did not think it a good thing to have a local as head of their new international school. I was instead offered a premium masters at a premium world university. A masters that I would not have been able to afford. I am grateful for all these events as I moved forward and am now a Director, above the Headmaster, in an even more prestigious international school of a bigger and richer country. There is a French saying that ‘no one is a prophet in their own country’.


  7. Personally, I would prefer to work for non-local head. There are three reasons for this: first, non-local head would stay more neutral between local staff and international hired staff; second, there is an HR who can deal with local bureaucrats, languages barriers, etc. And the last, head should be ‘in international education trend’ to keep his/her school in top rank.


  8. I recently taught in an international school with both a native country director and principals. It became clear from the beginning that the corruption of this country had seeped into this “American” School with school practices and an extensive amount of nepotism and cronyism present in hiring.

    A large and admiring populace of local hires dependent on this principal for work, as well as all the local students in the school, were used to report on foreign hires on a regular basis. Local staff frequently were observed to use the local language in the classroom, especially when students did not understand instruction given in English.

    Beware the school where there the few international hires or students and the school has a native director and/or principals. Local ethics, standards of learning, and acceptable behaviors are likely to become the norm and you should not be surprised if you have lost all autonomy in your own classroom.


  9. We have a UK head in an Omani school with a local board…he has no professional traction whatsoever – he’s just a figurehead for board decisions. Oops! First rule of teaching = do your homework…


    1. Yes I have seen this also at 2 different schools. Both schools had predominantly local national students so I also consider that when thinking of a new job.


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