How new international teachers can propel their careers

Over our three-piece series, we’ve looked at how to understand which international school may be a good fit for you and some of the hidden issues that can crop up if you move overseas.

This last article will now examine how to ensure your career progresses in the way you want it to if you move abroad.

After all, while opportunities abound, nothing is guaranteed about a career path and you need to ensure you make the right decisions and are in the running when an opening arises. So, here are some top tips to make sure your overseas move takes you where you want to go.

Be ready for opportunity

The first thing to note is that international schools are somewhat famous for their transient nature.

This serves as an example that, wherever you end up teaching, it is very possible that there will be opportunities for progression around the corner, as even the most established and long-serving leadership teams can quickly dissipate, leaving a vacuum to be filled.

Often, this is unpredictable and surprising when it happens but it means it’s key you put yourself in a position to be spotted in the event of a new role becoming available.

Look the part

Like it or not, you no longer work in the public sector, you work for a business. The ethos behind what you do may not have changed, but in all likelihood the way you are viewed by the community has.

Your parents are fee payers and looking for a bang for their buck. Equally, the way you are viewed by the senior leadership team is different, too.

If you are looking to take that next step on the ladder, you need to be someone who presents well at all times. The “all” is the crucial part, as anyone can put on a suit for an interview or assembly.

A good rule of thumb is to dress as smart as, at a minimum, your line manager. From a very simple optics perspective, this makes sense. If you want to be seen as someone who can do “X”, then you need to dress like someone who can be trusted to do “X”.

If you want to step up, they need to know that, when you do, you’ll look the part because international parents often have a certain view of how a leader looks.

Moving up and moving on

It’s possible that, in order to achieve the career progression you want, you may have to move on. While this might also be the case in the UK, there is a big difference between moving county and moving country.

As previously mentioned, the networks you build in schools mean that you will quickly know people from schools all around the world. You may want to take advantage of these connections if an opportunity comes up in their school, even if this is in a different country. This involves emigrating all over again and it can be really hard.

This is something you need to weigh up but, ultimately, it can be really worthwhile.

Each country has its own quirks and nuances, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking because you’ve done the move once, you now know it all. Each new country will present new challenges and opportunities. I’ve known many who have made this move and I myself have done so on three occasions.

Ultimately, you have to consider the pros and cons of moving on and whether it is worth it in your circumstance. 

The importance of attitude

The most challenging, and where I have seen the majority of talented leaders fall down, is in terms of attitude.

The demands of international schools are significant and it is easy to fall into the trap of complaining about what is being asked of you.

Fundamentally, this normally comes down to a lack of understanding of what you were signing up for and this is why it is so important to fully understand your school and its demands before signing the dotted line.

Of course, there is a reasonable limit to what should be asked and I’m not suggesting for one moment that you should never complain if something is wrong. However, attitudes towards day-to-day things are so important.

This includes things like doing duties, cover, meeting deadlines, reports and more. I can think of a number of members of staff over the years who have missed out on a promotion to a colleague due to their attitude towards the day-to-day things.

This is an important element of leadership and particularly important in international schooling, as you are often presented with challenges that you have absolutely no idea of how to overcome.

There is little precedent, there are various stakeholders with wildly differing expectations and time is typically of a premium.

At this point in time, you need positivity and creative thinking. Get this right and it will not go unnoticed.

Find a mentor

Last but by no means least, if you are serious about progressing your career in the international sector, you’ll need to find someone who you can look to for setting an example. In time, this person can also act as a confidant and coach.

This is something I have benefitted from throughout my career and it is by no means limited to the schools you are working in. Once you (or they) move on, you’ll still have these relationships with key members of staff that you can use for advice and support.

Networking generally is very important in international schools and if there are any events that you can be a part of, be sure to make as many new contacts as you can. LinkedIn is a fantastic resource and something you should get to grips with as soon as you can.

Without the need for face-to-face contact, Twitter is also a great digital staffroom for sharing advice and stories with a wider audience.

So, you are all but ready to embark on your career overseas. Having touched on a number of things over the past three articles, there is just one word from me – wherever in the world you end up, I hope you have a wonderful adventure.

Paul Gardner is vice-principal at Methodist College in Belfast and the author of So, you want to teach abroad available for pre-order in April. He has previously worked in international schools in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Russia and Spain