Why International Schools Should Remember Maslow

I’ve been working at internationals schools for over 10 years now and each one has been an incredibly rewarding but each one a very unique experience. I am about to shift schools again and will be working at an international school in Jakarta. As I enter the last 7 weeks, you start to go through that transition period between past and future. I really want to do a good job and have a lasting impact at my current school but part of my brain wanders to the future. It’s inevitable and human nature.

I think that I am a pretty adaptable person and embrace change easily (that’s part of the draw to international schools). But I know that with change comes the grieving process as one desperately tries to get over feelings of loss and embrace the new. I am also busy finishing up graduate courses online and one is a leadership course on change in international schools.

One of our questions was to think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (see figure below)We needed to think about all humans have these essential needs and you can’t really move up a level until your basic needs are fulfilled which makes sense. Think about a classroom and your students and how you can’t really move forward with learning and the curriculum until students feel safe and a sense of belonging.  That’s why so much emphasis is placed on learning routines (safety and physiological needs) and building community within the classroom (belonging needs).

Moving to a new country and working at a new school forces everyone to seek out all these needs. You need to find a new home, car, friends and learn the culture before you can even think about the school. I believe administrators need to really consider their faculty and where they are at any given point in the school year. Obviously, the goal is to have all teachers at the top at self-actualization where people feel a genuine sense of purpose, intrinsic rewards and contributing to the community.  During the 1-2 weeks of new teacher orientation, it is critical that administrators help teachers attain their basic and safety needs BEFORE even trying to talk to them about the curriculum.  The other challenging is building community and helping new teachers integrate into the new community and feel a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen at one of the schools I worked at and resulted in new teachers being extremely stressed, frantic and behind the 8 ball from day 1. International schools need so spend that time supporting teachers in finding housing, setting up utilities, finding nannies, places to shop and eat, etc.

I’m very fortunate in that my new school has already started this process and have been extremely supportive. This only means that we can quickly transition and reach Maslow’s highest level-self actualization.

Have a story to share about transitioning into a new international school or place? Would love to hear your comments!







The Key to a Successful School


Think back to a school that you have worked in or visited that was truly outstanding. Imagine it clearly in your mind. Now, try and pinpoint exactly what it was that made that schools so great. Many people will say, academic achievement, amazing resources, excellent teachers/admin, great sports and activity programs, or parental involvement. All of these are things we all desire in a successful school but these do not actually make a successful school by themselves. These are all results of a successful school. So what actually causes these factors? In a word-community.

Community is what drives every good school to become great. It’s what drives good teachers to become excellent teachers. It’s what drives all learning, sports and arts programs. Community is what inspires people to go beyond the status quo. It is what fosters creativity, innovation and nurtures a caring environment. It is that intangible- can’t-put-your-finger-on-nice-vibe factor that makes people go that extra mile. Without it, you can have all the money and resources in the world, and it’s simply a concrete lifeless space where people just go about their business teaching standards and benchmarks. So what is community exactly and specifically what defines a positive school community that can be the tipping point from good schools to great schools?

For those of you who are classroom teachers, you know one of the most, if not the most important factor in creating a successful classroom is building a positive, caring and inclusive classroom. Putting in the effort early on pays huge long term benefits in the long-term since you spend less time dealing with classroom management issues and social problems. You know you have done it when the classroom essentially runs itself. The same can be said for schools. I am speaking from a teacher’s point of view of course but I have worked at a school that was extremely successful at doing this. As a school, administrators truly have to spend time creating a positive, inclusive school that is vibrant, democratic and a fun place to work at. This ultimately translates to the teachers and parents.

So how does a school achieve a positive school climate? Here are some of my tips for doing so:

  • At the beginning of the year, spend time creating faculty get-togethers, socials, team building exercises. Having that open communication and trust between faculty, solves so many problems later on
  • Create a culture of communication, transparency and openness. This begins at faculty meetings where teachers should have a voice and an agenda in which they are involved with creating. Set meaningful and realistic goals as a school and develop specific action plans to achieve them
  • Empower teachers. Give them responsibilities and entrust them in making decisions. Don’t sit in on team meetings in which you have given these responsibilities to Grade Level Leaders. Follow up with them but sitting in on meetings makes them feel like they are incompetent
  • Celebrate, celebrate and celebrate the little and big things that teachers and students do everyday. Teachers and students need to feel like what they are doing is purposeful and there is an audience. Have assemblies that celebrate learning for the sake of learning. Write blogs or quote specific projects that teachers in web pages and school articles.
  • Do something different and innovative. Create something unique and special about the school. That begins to make people feel special and important.
  • Get things done. Create a culture of action and following through on promises and decisions. Don’t let things get bogged down in paperwork.