Research confirms what teachers, students, parents and superintendents have long known: the individual school is the key unit for educational improvement, and within the school the principal has a strong influence upon the nature of the school, the conditions under which students learn, and upon what and how much they learn. Despite this agreement about the central role of the principal, there is little research concerning the characteristics of principals associated with effective leadership and with pupil accomplishment, and even less insight about how these characteristics might be developed and by what means, particularly for international school settings. This paper aims to contribute to that knowledge.
By 2025, the United Nations (UN) estimates that 8.2 billion people will be living on earth (Overseas Family School, 2004). Of the world's 100 largest economies, 51 are transnational. Every year, more than a million people move in-between Australia, Africa, Asia, Europe, and the United States.
Capital cities have been home to a large cultural migration over the past two decades. The chart below shows which cities worldwide have a large percentage of ethnic make-up in their respective populations.
Figure 1: Ethnic Make-up.
SOURCE: Overseas Family School. (2004). International Schools Are Truly International. Retrieved from the Internet at http://www.ofs.edu.sg/about-ofs/articles/truly-international/.
Multiculturalism also exists outside of cities. International private schools are now starting to reflect a diverse population. Multiculturalism can be described as "a conversation among different voices," according to Harvard Professor, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Overseas Family School, 2004)
In an international school setting, when a student greets classmates, "hello" takes on global proportions (Overseas Family School, 2004). Hi. Ni hao. Hola. Namaste. Dobri den. Bonjour. Al salaam aleikum. These are just a few of the words that may be used by student in an international school to say hello to one another. However, while students may come from different nations and cultures, they all share the same planet and discuss similar topics.
A multinational student population simply means there is no majority, and thus no minority (Overseas Family School, 2004).. In this setting, students often lose any biased attitudes to other cultures, an attitude that promotes individual worth and respect, regardless of country, heritage, or background. Through shared academic experiences, international students learn to network and relate to global cultures.
The increasing number of international schools around the world is allowing parents to choose an alternative kind of education for their children - an education for the real world of global communication, international opportunity and cultural diversity (Lumpar, 2003). This is an education that extends beyond the confines of the classroom and sees in the learning process the chance for some remarkable lessons.
International schools have a long history in the field of education but there are many different "types" of international school (Lumpar, 2003). Some international schools serve a largely expatriate community and focus on teaching a set national curriculum that provides access to tertiary education back in a specific home country. Other international schools have far more diverse student populations and offer opportunities for young people to graduate into a world-wide educational environment. For the purpose of this paper, the term international school will be used to describe schools that serves the needs of expatriate families in non-English speaking countries.
Recently, there has been an increasing awareness amongst many international educators and parents, in both schools that focus on expatriate communities and those that do not, regarding the need for an education that offers more than a traditional academic curriculum (Lumpar, 2003). This is an approach to international boarding school education that offers a more child-centered and holistic approach to learning. These are schools that see an opportunity to specifically develop cross-cultural understanding, an international outlook and an ability to build relationships with people from different backgrounds and beliefs.
In an international school setting, students are exposed to diverse experiences and are encouraged to achieve their full potential across a variety of dimensions, academically, physically, spiritually and socially (Lumpar, 2003). In this light, school leaders encourage an environment that promotes a healthy international outlook. One of the great advantages of this approach to education is that, in everyday school life, students are naturally exposed to a variety of different cultures, promoting an open spirit of multicultural interest and acceptance. International schools encourage students to reflect on the divisions which characterize so many of the world's problems to find values which see a common humanity behind the diversity.
According to Dr. Jonathan Long, head teacher of an international school in Switzerland (Lumpar, 2003): "The nature of the problems the world needs to solve today cannot be solved at the level at which they were created. We need to see beyond the fragmented differences of culture, language and religion to a more fundamental reality. One of the great advantages of an international education is that you can create an environment in which young people from different cultures, nationalities and languages are brought together in one place. They have the opportunity to learn that what makes them human is not their cultural identity, language, or religion alone but it is also something essentially spiritual that transcends all of these things. In other words, they have the chance to recognize that there is a common humanity which transcends the differences at which world problems are often experienced today."
Most international schools enable students to graduate to universities around the world, offering a wide variety of experience (Lumpar, 2003). Graduates also have lifelong access to their school's international network of social and business contacts. Their multilingual and international social skills can serve as a powerful tool to becoming influential leaders in a global setting.
Academic rigor is vitally important because academic qualifications are crucial to accessing a good university and professional career (Lumpar, 2003). International qualifications are very popular today and certainly help to promote a global perspective. In addition to academic rigor, successful people often pay tribute to those elements of a more rounded international education that exposed them to a wider variety of experiences and learning for life.
One major challenge facing education in the 21st century is to educate young people for the "real world" of diversity and difference (Lumpar, 2003). Whether these differences remain as the fragmented divisions of hatred and intolerance will depend to a large extent on the kind of education young people receive. An international education offers the opportunity to celebrate diversity in a spirit of understanding and tolerance and to develop a positive regard and awareness of other people. This must be one of the most important challenges facing the world today - it is a challenge which international educators aim to conquer.
A great deal of pressure is placed on today's international educators, particularly since literature on general schools shows that good leadership is key to successful schools. Many researchers recognize that school leaders put forth a powerful, if indirect, influence on teaching quality and student learning (Education Week, 2004). In a review of literature for the American Educational Research Association, Leithwood and Riehl (2003) revealed that school leadership has significant effects on student learning, second only to the effects of the quality of curriculum and teachers' instruction. Case studies of successful schools indicate that school leaders influence learning primarily by stimulating effort around motivated goals and by establishing conditions that support teachers and that help students succeed (Togneri and Anderson, 2003).
Additionally, Leithwood and Riehl (2003) hold that large-scale quantitative studies of education conclude that the effects of leadership on student learning are small yet educationally significant (Education Week, 2004). Even though leadership explains only about 3 to 5% of the variation in student learning across schools, this effect is nearly 25% of the total effect of all school factors. In these studies, as in case studies, the effects of leadership seem to be mostly indirect: leaders influence student learning by helping to promote a vision and goals, and by ensuring that resources and processes are in place to enable teachers to teach effectively (Leithwood and Riehl, 2003).
According to research, principals have a major influence on instructional change in their schools (Education Week, 2004). Their level of involvement often determines whether attempts to change instruction succeed (Riordan, 2003). For instance, studies show that school leaders, particularly those that lead low-performing schools, are frequently ineffective in providing support and mentoring to improve instruction, and providing direction and resources for teacher learning and professional development both in and out of the school. This pattern continues despite research that identifies the importance of the principal's role as instructional leader.
While its specific effects are hard to measure precisely,…