Fisher (2016), synthesizing the ideas of Cheng, Schein, and Dumetz, defines school organizational culture as "the way people in school behave and act, what is considered important and valued, and what beliefs there are about learning" and goes on to put forward that schools with a healthy culture are effective at supporting learning in students (p. 419). Various accrediting bodies lend their 'kitemark' to schools that they deem, at least in part, to support cultures of improvement and that encourage organizational internal dialogue and reflexivity (Fertig, 2016, p. 450). Accrediting bodies and the accreditation process require schools to ask and reflect upon the questions: Where are we know, where are we going, how will we get there, and how will we know we are getting there? (pp. 452-453). The ulitmate goal is to promote continous improvement towards the stated goals and values of the accrediting institution in question (p. 456).
Given the diversity of international schools seeking accreditation world-wide, and the variety of local contexts they operate within and the variety of student demographics they serve, coming up with a single 'leadership profile' to describe the qualities school leaders should possess to best meet the needs of the schools they head is not an easy task. The traits of effective leaders put forward by Fisher (2016), citing MacNeil, of being "charismatic", "team-oriented", "participative", and "humane-oriented" (p. 425) serve well to support adaptable growth in their organizations and meet the requirements of accrediting bodies in certifying the quality of their schools.
The traits mentioned in the preceding paragraph support what Fisher (2016), citing Leitwood et al. and Day et al., asserts as being the activities that effective international school leaders take part in. Fisher says that effective school leaders define and communicate school vision, change teaching and learning conditions, redesign leadership, enrich the curriculum, and build internal collaboration (pp. 420-421). As accrediting bodies focus on finding tangible, objective evidence that the school's culture and processes ensure a certain level of learning and improvement though observations, reading documents, and interviewing teachers (Fertig, 2016, p. 450), it is important that leaders are able to make tangible through artifacts, events, and discourses the intangible elements of their organizations culture like values, norms, and convictions (Fisher, 2016, p. 419).
To make sure that intangible school visions are operationalized in practice it is important that teachers have a stake in putting them into practice in their work. Redefining leadership to promote collaboration and embrace change in pedagogy and organizational systems infrastructure based on the feedback and needs of students, teachers, and other stakeholders in the organization can help support the flexibility of approach required to integrate pedagogical shifts required to meet the criteria for accreditation into existing teacher skill sets and expectations (Fisher, 2016, p. 428). Offering options to teachers to meet multiple cultural (both national and organizational) expectations with regard to self-study approaches can help to integrate a culture of "teacher as researcher" into the school culture for the broadest spectrum of teaching professionals (Fisher, 2016, p.429).
Accreditiation processes and good leadership practices exist in a symbiotic relationship in which accreditation criteria promote positive leadership practices and the practices meet the goals of accreditation. Both Fisher (2016) and Fertig (2016) seem to agree that school leaders and accrediting bodies should seek to promote school cultures in which improvment and positive growth is embedded into the fabric of the school, from the school vision, through the practices, symbols, and rituals, to the instruction and ultimately the students themselves. An awareness of the practices and approaches that support this can lead to more effective leadership in international schools and better outcomes for their students.
Fertig, M. (2016). Quality assurance in national and international schools: Accreditation, authorization and inspection. In M. Hayden, J. Levy & J. J. Thompson (eds.), The Sage handbook of research in international education. London, UK: Sage Publications Ltd. 447-463.
Fisher, D. (2016). Organizational culture and school leadership. In M. Hayden, J. Levy & J. J. Thompson (eds.), The Sage handbook of research in international education. London, UK: Sage Publications Ltd. 417-432.
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 15 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is Head of Innovation & Learning at an international school in Malaysia and is a proud husband and father.