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heads of schools discussing challenges faced

A recent comprehensive CIS Research analysis based on responses from a diverse sample of school leaders revealed the main challenges faced by school heads around the globe.

The study included insights from a group of men and women who are White, non-White, and were either internationally or locally hired. All responses attributed the respondent’s data set (e.g. man, international hire, White).

The CIS Research group includes heads of schools that are members of the Council of International Schools (CIS), the Association of American International Schools in the Americas (AMISA), British Schools in the Middle East (BSME), the Council of British International Schools (COBIS), and the East Asia Regional Council of Schools (EARCOS).

According to the study, almost 350 heads in 106 different countries completed a salary and benefits survey that this analysis is based on.

5 Main Professional Challenges Faced

  • Pandemic: The pandemic emerged as the most significant professional challenge across all groups, impacting various aspects of school operations, including enrollment, financial stability, and community well-being.
  • Board Governance: Issues related to board governance, such as lack of transparency, pressure to make unethical decisions, and board actions leading to negative consequences for the school, were highlighted by respondents.
  • Corporate Governance & Ownership: Challenges in navigating corporate structures, legal complexities, and conflicting compliance audits were mentioned, particularly in for-profit school settings.
  • Financial Instability: Economic and political instability in countries, leading to enrollment drops, budget cuts, and financial deficits, posed significant challenges for school leaders.
  • Discrimination: Discrimination based on gender, race, nationality, or language proficiency was cited as a professional challenge, affecting career progression, salary disparities, and job opportunities.

Here are some of the most interesting highlights to reflect on:

Least Surprising, The Pandemic Was the Biggest Hurdle For All Groups

The pandemic created the biggest hurdle for all, particularly for the school leader who was “leading the school through the pandemic coupled with the political, racial, economic, and social turmoil in the United States and in our school and community as a result of the increasing polarization of society in the US and elsewhere” (Man, locally hired, White)

Women, Non White Groups Are The Only Two Groups That Listed Discrimination As a Professional Challenge They Encountered

The men, White, and internationally hired groups all ranked ‘board governance’ as their second biggest professional challenge, while women and non-White groups listed discrimination. 

“Racism- belief that as a Black American working as a leader internationally is not at the same level as a white male or female with less qualifications or experiences. Inequality- paid less than local counterparts (belief that I should be happy to be the only black expat leader at an international school in the country).” (Woman, international hire, non-White)

The locally hired group listed financial instability as their second biggest challenge, after the pandemic.

The ‘Unexpected’ Challenges School Leaders Faced Shed Light on The Courage and Perseverance It Took To Continue Leading

This section of the report, ‘The Unexpected’, detailed the critical issues and crises faced, as well as sacrifices made, at any point – before, during, or after the pandemic.

The Report Highlights the Need for Support Networks

Among many poignant observations made, the report underscores the need for support networks and emphasizes the importance of reaching out for assistance or offering support to colleagues facing similar challenges. 

At the end of the report, executive director at CIS, Jane Larsson, acknowledged the dedication and sacrifices made by school leaders to support their communities in an ever-changing educational landscape.

“These responses portray a changed profession in a changing world, where the pace and complex demands frequently exceed their capacity and training,” she wrote.

“Support networks are important. Please reach out to others for support or to offer your support to colleagues. We are here to help.”

Read the full report.