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I Get To Play and To Innovate

International Education: Stories From the Field
By Ruth Herrin
I Get To Play and To Innovate

In this collection of stories, international educators share their unique experiences, insights, and perspectives. These accounts include how some began their international school career, things to consider if you’re curious about the international teaching landscape, what they’ve learned along the way, and the unparalleled journeys on this career path.

Join us as we delve into the stories of these inspiring educators and gain a deeper understanding of the transformative power of education across borders.



Hi, I'm Ruth Herron. I am the Secondary School Assistant Principal at the American International School of Guangzhou, and this is my 15th year in education. I am originally from the Ozarks, a very small town in the southwest of the Ozarks. I grew up on a farm. The only person in my family who's in education, so is the black sheep of the family. And I never intended to go into education. I certainly never intended to become an international school educator. But through a series of events, I landed in a job in Shanghai and realized how much I loved education. I went back to school, got my master's of education, and wanted to get back out internationally because those were my people. You could engage in innovative teaching and learning practices. You could really push the boundaries more so than I felt I could within the context of the United States. So, went to Nepal, went to Mexico, and now I'm back in China. And I love the work that I do because I get to play and innovate and meet the needs of our local context, which is constantly changing. And it is a fast-paced, quick environment that requires us to think collaboratively, and to think in ways that actually impact our students here and now. So, for example, what we're currently working on and what I'm very proud of is the work that we've done with inclusion, diversity, equity, and social justice within our school. So, what we have done specifically is created not reactive but proactive inclusion policies and those procedures to support not just the students, but our entire community. We have involved stakeholders from across our community, including our students, our caregivers, local businesses, our board, teachers, faculty, staff. And through that, we have created systems and structures to ensure that we support everyone. And it looks very different depending on the context, but I'm very, very proud of how we've been able to leverage individual teacher expertise. And that gets me back to why I love international education, because you work with such a varied, wonderful, thoughtful group of people with experiences from all over the world. And those interactions and those types of thinking create systems, structures, conversations, and intellect that are inescapable, but also not replicable in anywhere that I go. We are a small community of international educators. We, you know, there's a matter of degree, two people matter of degree from who we meet. And I find that that community of thoughtful, involved educators from around the world with the sole focus of how are we going to support student learning, how are we going to support ourselves as we are all in this international community really creates some of the best thinking that I've seen in education and we push ourselves to be better educators. So, it's not something I've ever seen replicated in the US and it's not something I would ever want to give up because of the dynamic innovative quality that I see in our international education system.

What’s your advice to teachers who have not taught internationally?

I would say, as with most schools, look at the mission and vision of the school. Get behind a school that speaks to you and your personal ethics. Because as educators, what we do involves a moral obligation, an ethical obligation to our communities. So, find a school that matches that. And know that when you go somewhere new, the first few months will be uncomfortable, as with any new school. But as with any type of learning, there has to be some type of discomfort in order to continue to push ourselves. You know, if we stay in a stasis, we maintain our status quo, we'll never grow. So, to truly grow as educators, as people, as fully actualized human beings, we have to push that envelope. We have to lean into that discomfort, and the best way to do that is to get to a school that you believe in their mission and vision, and you know that they'll support you and dig in and get uncomfortable.

An analogy

So years ago I saw this video. It's this old rabbi and he's talking about growth and change, and he says consider the lobster. As the lobster is growing, its shell gets tight and uncomfortable and so in order to grow the lobster has to go underneath the rock, safe place, and shed its skeleton, or exoskeleton, and become soft and vulnerable, and then grow a new exoskeleton. And it's only through that process of becoming uncomfortable, becoming awkward, becoming vulnerable that we're able to learn and to grow. And so, as with anyone, as we're international educators leaning into the discomfort that we feel when we're growing, finding a safe place to become vulnerable, and exiting stronger, bigger, better - it's the only way that we will learn and grow as educators and as humans.


Ruth Herrin is the Secondary Assistant Principal at the American International School of Guangzhou, China. Originally from the Ozarks in the United States, she has spent much of her adult life working in international contexts, advocating for belonging, diversity, equity, and inclusivity. As a leader, she values and celebrates student, teacher, and family voices and believes in incorporating them into schools' decision-making processes and structures. Ruth has worked in schools in Mexico, Nepal, and the United States. She holds a master's degree in secondary education with a research focus on student identity and anti-racist curricula. Ruth is working towards her doctorate in Educational Leadership, in which she is studying the implementation of diversity, equity, and inclusion within international schools.

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