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The Landscape of International Leadership

Global Leadership Stories
By Catarina Song Chen, Dr. Wallace Ting, and Lindsay Prendergast
The Landscape of International Leadership

(Photo source: SchoolRubric)

The Global Leadership Stories series showcases a selection of case studies that have been put together by a group of experienced and diverse school leaders from the newly published International Education Leadership: Stories from Around the Globe.

International schools represent almost 13,000 institutions across the globe as of 2022 (ISC Research, 2022). They span a myriad of forms and frameworks across hundreds of countries all over the world, and yet are united by a common purpose: connecting cultures, people, and nations through education. Leading today’s international schools, no matter the location, presents unique challenges and opportunities made even more exciting by the enticing adventures of living amidst a community of multinational, multilingual backgrounds.

As a new or aspiring international school leader, the expanse between what has been studied in theory and what can only be learned in practice is vast. Learning from experienced leaders such as Lee Fertig (The Nueva School, United States) as he articulates the nuanced components of an effective teacher supervision program, or from Dr. Ruth Allen (The Columbus School, Colombia) and her deep background in organizational management, could typically only be accomplished in a conference setting, or a fortuitous personal encounter. Imagine having a coffee conversation with Dr. Audrey Menard (International School of Panama, Panama), Dr. Bill Johnston (retired leader with 30+ years in international education), Dr. Colin Brown (American School in Taichung, Taiwan), and the type of practical leadership lessons from actual schools and real scenarios you would gain. 

As the heads of schools, we are the highest-ranking administrator charged with the most responsibilities for the successful, overall operations and management of the organization. How well we manage the school can be measured by the progress of everything including student academics, faculty performance, culture and morale, school enrollment, financial health, campus management and expansion, fundraising, even to board relationships. As the heads of international schools, we are charged with the same responsibilities, but in the context of multiculturalism. This often involves transient stakeholders living in a geographical setting that is different from their place of birth or passport, multiple curricula, as well as different customs, culture, and languages. The international context adds layers of complexity to the already comprehensive school environment. 

Even with over 100 years of international education, we still currently lack meaningful and rich resources and professional development that genuinely prepare aspiring international school heads for the arduous job or that could provide continuous assistance for those that are already on the job and looking for ongoing support. Looking back to our first year as a head of an international school, we can’t help but wonder, if given a chance to tell our younger selves what we know now, what would we say? What are some pieces of cautionary advice or words of wisdom that we could share with our younger selves, who first found the landscape of international schools intimidating, lonely, and nebulous?

Our wish is to help fill a lacuna that currently exists in the leadership of international schools. This series of authentic cases acts as a guide to prepare our leaders with realistic expectations as we forewarn complicated challenges that may arise and inspire creative solutions. These scenarios can be used as simulations when preparing for the future or can be examined as lessons learned to be applied in new situations.

The international school market is growing exponentially and, consequently, the need for high-caliber heads of schools is increasing while recruitment becomes competitive. However, there is a glaring and ever-growing gap between the augmenting number of international schools and decreasing availability of qualified, responsive leaders. Another reason this gap persists is the lack of holistic and comprehensive training programs that prepare educators for international school headships. We aim to connect the dots by helping to bridge the demand for international school leadership with confident education leaders, well prepared and ready to take on the role as heads of international schools. We hope to make these connections by equipping leaders with the necessary knowledge that can be acquired from our real-life stories which address the subtle, but powerful nuances of educational leadership that aren’t commonly taught in master’s courses or identified in professional standards.

Our series will showcase some of the stories shared by thirteen international education leaders who have come together from across the globe to share lessons learned. The moral of international school leadership is captured and divided into seven major motifs:

  • Mission, Vision, and Core Values
  • Professional Capacity of Educators
  • Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
  • School Improvement
  • Community of Care and Support for Students
  • Equity and Cultural Responsiveness
  • Operations and Resource Management

Together, they illustrate the beautiful landscape of international school leadership; they turn an abstract work of art that paints everything tenuous, gray, and ambiguous in educational leadership into a clear form of tangible perspectives. The stories unveil the mysterious skills of educational leadership to portray intuitive knowledge and perceptive accounts of lessons learned.

An aspiring head of school can learn firsthand with their own personal experiences or learn vicariously through the experiences of others. If you have the fortune of learning through firsthand experiences, then you can further your learning with the lessons shared. If you have not yet been exposed to international school leadership, then these will serve as an imaginative-reality playbook, your go-to guide to information on what to expect when leading international school ventures, and how to be response-ready with strategies that have been tried and tested.

“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”
- Publilius Syrus


Chen, C.S., Prendergast, L., Ting, W. (2022). International Education Leadership: Stories From Across the Globe. SchoolRubric Inc.

Additional free learning resources (author interviews, etc.) can be found at

*This has been adapted from the foreword of the book International Education Leadership: Stories From Across the Globe. It is a collaborative effort to share stories that matter and are relevant to educators aspiring to become heads of international schools or anyone already involved in educational leadership.

Catarina Song Chen has been the Head of School at Escola Americana de Belo Horizonte for the past 13 years. Her career has spanned over 25 years as a classroom teacher, adjunct professor, and advisory board member. Catarina serves several international education organizations as a Board member and leader including AAIE, AMISA, and AISH. Her entrepreneurial spirit and personal philosophy that learning must be fun have led her to earn the National Distinguished Principal Award from NAESP, among other awards.

Dr. Wallace Ting is the co-founder of SchoolRubric, a 501c(3) non-profit organization that publishes articles, magazines, podcasts, courses, books, and other educational content from educators across the world. Prior to Dr. Ting’s current role at SchoolRubric, he spent seven years in public education as a secondary mathematics teacher in Texas and New York City, along with 10 years overseas as a teacher, principal, deputy head, and superintendent in international schools in Colombia, Guatemala, and Nigeria.

Lindsay Prendergast, M.Ed., has served schools and districts across the globe for nearly two decades as a consultant, Principal, Counselor, and teacher. She currently supports leaders in one of the largest districts in the US as an embedded leadership coach for NWEA. Lindsay is also a Framework Specialist for The Danielson Group, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) Emerging Leader, and a fellow with the Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE). Prior to NWEA, Lindsay served as a Principal of an international school in the Dominican Republic.

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