The Public Perception of Teachers

Joe Nutt
Author and Educational Consultant

The Public Perception of Teachers

Even while teachers continue to battle on as key workers, and some state schools buckle and close under the pressure of trying to operate effectively under politically imposed restrictions, curiously the profession remains in the public and press firing line. All kinds of voices have been raised against teachers, even in the midst of such remarkably difficult circumstances.

Which got me thinking hard about why teachers so often polarise opinion and provoke negative reactions amongst none teachers, because like it or not, they do.

A company I worked for some years ago set up a regular event to invite leading educational figures to talk to its senior managers about current educational issues. I invited an extremely high profile headteacher to one of these events and on this occasion, almost everyone in the business with a senior role was there. Nonetheless, my guest addressed a room full of experienced, professional businessmen and women, as though he was teaching an A level Economics class – bottom set.

I recognised immediately, as an ex-teacher myself, that his tone and demeanour were exactly the same he used in his own classroom. Yet throughout he appeared totally unaware of this, as well as the detrimental effect he was having. He simply could not abandon his role as the single voice of authority in any physical space. It was as though someone had secretly flicked a teacher switch, located somewhere on his spine, the moment he stood in front of the lectern.

His gaze wandered infuriatingly somewhere midway between the ceiling and the adults sitting politely in front of him but never engaged with them. Statements were delivered relentlessly, one after another, as though no one could possibly challenge them and I can vividly remember the parade of glowering faces that left the room. For around forty-five, deeply uncomfortable minutes, instead of helping them better understand the market they all worked in, he successfully confirmed every negative prejudice those professional adults already had about teachers. As one of a small number of ex-teachers working for that company, in less than an hour he had made my job exponentially more difficult.

I finally grasped what is really going on much more recently while watching a CPD event the pandemic had forced to go online, delivered by a teacher. The software application he was using allowed viewers to see the presenter in a tiny window, at the same time as he was writing on a larger whiteboard. The content was fine. It was informative, relevant and interesting but his tone, even online, really grated because it was exactly the one he would have used talking to twelve-year-olds. He didn’t shift register at all to match his adult audience, even whilst occasionally using a researcher’s vocabulary. Even though none of us were in the same room and everything was done digitally, the experience was no different from the one I’d unwittingly imposed on colleagues, at my previous employer.

I suppose you could argue this might not matter in the least if you’re a teacher addressing other teachers, but if you’re being interviewed on the BBC’s flagship news programme Today, because you’re the leader of the largest teachers’ organisation in the country, it might be wise to understand this. It might stop you from replying to every question from Nick Robinson with the barked imperative, “Listen” as though you are reprimanding a rude toddler. Because that is exactly what Mary Bousted, the CEO of the NEU did, in the middle of round two of her union’s bare-knuckle fight with the government over Covid policy. What Radio Four listeners made of it I can only imagine, because she did nothing to enhance the public perception of teachers.

If I needed any confirmation that I was right about this, then it came even more dramatically, when I was attending another online educational event. It wasn’t long before I was witnessing yet another teacher doing exactly the same and I was so frustrated I tweeted this: A general plea to all teachers ever put in the position of delivering a presentation to any adult audience. Please don’t use exactly the same tone and register you would use talking to twelve-year-olds. It is so off-putting.

It struck an immediate chord, judging by the reaction. But far more interestingly, it earned me immediate removal from the event by the organiser, who was clearly not prepared to tolerate even anonymised criticism, as I made sure not to put the link to the event in my tweet which the organisers had asked everyone to use.

If teachers really want the public perception of them to improve, they need to understand the real world much better. They need to appreciate that addressing adults requires they think extremely carefully about how they go about it.

There are undoubtedly aspects of their routine work that can transfer effectively to the real world. The confidence it takes to address an audience; the ability to structure information so that it’s easily assimilated; emphasis, repetition and even humour, are all tools good teachers routinely carry with them. But all of these count for nothing if you don’t grasp that grown-ups expect to be addressed as such.

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to have your thoughts below.



Joe Nutt is the author of several books about the poetry of Donne, Milton and Shakespeare and a collection of essays, The Point of Poetry. His most recent book, Teaching English for the Real World was published in May by John Catt.

He is an international educational consultant who spent almost 20 years teaching, unusually in schools ranging from the highly selective, private sector to challenging, inner-city state schools. The second half of his career has been in business and he has implemented a number of major educational projects including the national intranet for Scotland, Glow, which won the Global Learning Impact Award in 2009.

The Senior Leadership Team: Collaboration and Communication

Duncan Partridge
Leadership Coach & Mentor


“Generally, I think we’re quite good at communication in our school. Feedback suggests that our home and educator communities feel informed and are satisfied with the systems we have in place. However, I do have a concern about our Senior Leadership Team meetings. It’s hard to get everybody together as often as I’d like. And when we do, there’s always so much to go through. I don’t think any of us is very satisfied with our meetings. We’ve established some protocols in terms of agendas and minutes, as well as listening to each other and not interrupting. But I still don’t think we’ve got it right.”

Fatima, International School Headteacher


What’s going on here? Fatima has an experienced and talented team around her and everyone is committed to working together to move the school forward, yet still, she feels they are underperforming in meetings. A lack of time, as well as the general pressures of running a school are very likely to be significant contributory factors. But maybe there is an additional explanation for what is happening. A professional meeting is a complex sociological phenomenon where numerous influencing factors come into play. When we are aware of a particular dynamic or behaviour that is derailing a meeting, we can take measures to correct matters. However not all such factors are immediately apparent and often we struggle to identify what is going wrong.


Developing an awareness of our communication palate, the ‘voices’ we use when we are engaging with our colleagues is an important starting point for putting things right. We all have our own favoured talk styles, default approaches which we deploy in meetings and other interactions. Gaining insight into what these styles are and the extent to which we use them is the first step to being able to consciously manage their deployment. Self-awareness of our go-to communication styles can help us to tailor our approach, ensuring we are not using them inappropriately or excessively.


Similarly, by developing an understanding of where the ‘gaps’ are in our talk palate, we can work to bring greater variety and flexibility to our interactions.


One way of gaining such insight is through Voice-Print, a model which defines 9 ‘voices’, which everyone uses to greater or lesser extents in their professional interactions. Through the Voice-Print self-assessment, the characteristic but usually unconscious patterns in the use of these voices are surfaced. Armed with their Voice-Print profiles, school leadership teams can use a common language to monitor, analyse and modify the way they are communicating.

© Business Cognition Ltd, All Rights Reserved


Voice-Print can also help teams to identify each other’s ‘hot buttons’ when it comes to communication. Each of the nine voices has a ‘dark side’, an unhelpful counterpart which can be perceived by colleagues if a particular voice is being over or inappropriately used. So for example, someone who uses the ‘advocate’ voice a lot is in danger of being seen as preaching by some members of the team. Similarly, a person who has a tendency towards employing ‘probe’ is at risk of coming across as intruding. The secret to development here is not to stop using certain voices, simply to be aware of how often and when the voices are being used and crucially to be aware of the impact of one’s approach on others.


Communication and collaboration are at the heart of effective practice and leadership in international education; indeed one of the International Baccalaureate Standards for IB World Schools is: ‘The school promotes open communication based on understanding and respect’. This sort of high-quality communication is especially important at a senior level in international schools, in order to ensure leadership teams are truly harnessing their strengths for the purpose of improving student learning.


Fatima and her colleagues, as skilled and committed as they are, could well be underperforming as a team because of a lack of awareness of themselves and each other as communicators. A better understanding of how approach and expression impact conversations could enable them to improve their collaborative potential, to the benefit of everyone in the community.


Another international school head demonstrated this when he spoke about the impact a ‘voice aware’ approach had on his own team’s work:

“An organisation which seeks to teach effective communication skills to young people should be acutely aware of how well it communicates with itself. At Senior Management Team level we have already noticed a difference in terms of our awareness of each other’s profiles and how we move forward meetings that might otherwise have got ‘stuck’.”





Duncan Partridge is a leadership coach and mentor working with international schools. Duncan has held headship roles in three international schools and has also been Director of Education at two education third sector organisations.

Duncan is a qualified coach and Voice-Print practitioner

He can be contacted at:

QA in times of crisis: a health checklist for school leadership

Maurice Dimmock, Chairman, ASIC Accreditation


QA in times of crisis: a health checklist for school leadership

Effective, internal quality assurance has never been more critical to the successful governance and running of a school. In a time of crisis, as normal daily challenges are compounded and new ones are seemingly never-ending, the foundations a school is built and run on are crucial in maintaining a strong sense of community and in achieving desired outcomes for pupils. From what I have witnessed in communicating with our schools, and in undertaking remote inspections throughout the pandemic, there are three key characteristics which signal a school is weathering the crisis better than others.

Adaptive. The schools who were already champions of innovation, and who actively nurture this attitude in their operations, have found the shift to online teaching and governance the easiest.

Collaborative. Those with established links and partnerships with other schools and sector networks (with whom to share best-practice) have found much-needed reassurance and support throughout the pandemic.

Robust and healthy leadership. Schools who have strong leadership and governance, with clarity of vision, ethos, and direction have been able to draw upon their defining characteristics and maintain both purpose and effective communication with pupils, parents, staff, and their local communities.

It is a difficult time, and with much being outside of a school leaderships control, it can be tempting to assert and direct to get things done. However, though it may seem easier to pull rank and dictate (often done with good intentions of improving accountability and streamlining processes) this method breeds dissatisfaction and eventual distrust in leadership. Over time this erodes the school’s sense of fellowship, harming pupils, staff, and outcomes. Instead, we find that schools who have continued to operate with the guiding principles of quality, equity, and collaboration have found it possible to continue to work efficiently in pursuit of their goals, whilst also strengthening their school’s community.

While it seems hard to take time amidst chaos to sit back and take stock, it is a far greater task to battle against the consequences of lost time and opportunity. The health of your school’s leadership and operation needs attention now. ASIC does not believe in busywork, and all the questions we ask below, if acted upon, have proven benefits for a school’s operation and reputation. The areas covered below are by no means exhaustive, nor will one school be facing identical challenges to another. My advice is to reflect on which areas may have been overlooked or need raising with the schools governing board.


School Leadership health check:

Governance and Management, Quality Assurance and Enhancement

  • Are you ultimately operating and making decisions in line with pupils’ best interests and outcomes?
  • Do you continue to govern inclusively, welcoming feedback and input from a diverse range of voices and experiences?
  • How is the leadership and governance of the school continuing to set and safeguard high standards and expectations?
  • In your response to the pandemic, is the school’s vision and mission reflected consistently in both its policies and practices? If not, why? What are you doing to address this?
  • Have you taken the time to review your risk assessment, learning from the current difficulties to ensure the school meets future challenges with knowledge and hindsight gained from this experience?
  • Do not neglect self-evaluation; the pandemic will have shed light on both areas of strength and areas in need of improvement. Are you continuing to evaluate the impact of decisions made? Is this being fed into the school’s self-improvement plan?
  • Parental engagement (in addition to representation on the governing board) can have a sizable positive impact on children’s learning. Is the school continuing to communicate and seek the views of parents and caregivers, including disadvantaged families, ex-pat families, and families where the school’s language of instruction is not the family’s first language? How are you demonstrating, and feeding back, that these views are acknowledged?

Student welfare, learning, teaching, and systems management

  • There are inherent challenges in remote learning, particularly for vulnerable, SEND, and disadvantaged children. Are these pupils and their caregivers being catered for (as best you can) in decisions made?
  • Have you re-assessed your safeguarding policies and arrangements?
  • With more learning being undertaken online, and often without supervision, how is the school ensuring that it keeps pupils safe from bullying, harassment, and online grooming? Is your school aware of the risks of extremism/radicalisation; how are you building awareness, and resilience, to this in your pupils?
  • Are global citizenship activities still taught alongside the curriculum?
  • How is a sense of community being fostered?
  • Are international students at risk of isolation; if so, how are you making sure that this is not the case?
  • How have you adapted your record-keeping of attendance, behaviour, and bullying? How are you monitoring behaviour, progress, and attainment of all pupils?
  • Which groups of pupils are the highest and lowest performing? Why is this? The achievement gap is growing for the most disadvantaged pupils, do you have credible plans for addressing this? How will you know if current approaches are working and how will the impact of decisions and interventions be monitored?
  • Is the school still encouraging a healthy, active lifestyle for its pupils and staff? There are many extra-curricular activities and sports which may not be practical to run at present, but can you share materials to encourage additional learning and engagement at home? Are you using your networks and partnerships with other schools and bodies to full advantage?

Staff welfare and resources

  • Whether you are still teaching remotely or are back in the classroom, you can use these experiences to assess how you holistically teach soft skills and digital skills alongside the curriculum. Do you have staff who have been previously reluctant to embrace technology? Encourage them to see that they are helping to teach and shape the attitudes of a generation who will need digital skills as standard in their futures. Can you provide more support and training?
  • Are you continuing to hold all staff, including leadership, accountable for their conduct and professionalism?
  • Are teachers and support staff being used as effectively and efficiently as possible and in line with best practice and guidance?
  • To what extent are staff reporting a positive culture? If they report dissatisfaction, are you taking steps to understand why this is so and change your approach if necessary?
  • Are you continuously seeking feedback about work/life balance and understanding that this can change for individuals over time?
  • Conversations with parents to alleviate concerns and to assess the impact on individual pupils are more important than ever. Do staff have time to do this?
  • How are you reviewing workloads and ensuring tasks are completed to a high standard, whilst streamlining and dropping unnecessary activities?


Strong leadership and governance set the expectations and standards of a school. Quality assurance involves the systematic review of all areas of educational provision to maintain and improve its quality, equity, and efficiency – this is more important than ever in times of crisis. Schools must also look past the current pandemic to the future. The skills and capabilities which their pupils need for fulfilment and development, for further study and employment, and for social inclusion and engaged citizenship, must not be compromised by the challenges of the present.

I urge school leaders to ultimately concentrate on what matters – making decisions regarding safeguarding and outcomes in the interests of your pupils and their futures. Communicate effectively with staff, parents and caregivers, and your pupils about how you will achieve this (alongside explaining the limitations that you face) and ask for their help in trying to address any problems you encounter. At ASIC, we work on the premise that quality assurance is about people and attitudes. If, in your leadership, you take people along with you, nurturing collective responsibility and accountability, your school and its pupils will make it through this period of uncertainly stronger, quicker to adapt, and more resilient. Traits the world needs from its citizens more than ever.


For more information about ASIC Accreditation for International Schools, and how our services can help you, please get in touch with us at or call UK office-hours 09:00-17:00, Mon-Fri, on +44 (0)1740 617 920.




Maurice Dimmock is the Chairman of the Accreditation Service for International Schools, Colleges and Universities (ASIC) and the ASIC Group of Companies. He has 40+ years of experience of working in education, with this expertise grounded in working at all levels in the sector throughout his career. He has taught at schools, colleges, and universities as well as leading institutions as both Head of Sixth Form and College Principle, before becoming more involved in development and project management in his role as Director of International Development and as International Project Manager at universities in the UK and overseas. He has a diverse and comprehensive consultancy portfolio, having worked as a consultant for universities, governments, the World Bank, and Quacquarelli Symonds (QS World University Rankings.)

Picking up after an unsuccessful college experience

Dan McManmon

President, College Internship Program (CIP)


“I have had nothing but negative experiences when it comes to school. I went to a university, flunked out because I was struggling with depression. I didn’t eat, sleep, shower, etc. So I went back to community college and failed the next semester. Went to another university, where I am at currently and I see the same pattern of me failing to attend class. I go at first, then I’ll miss once, and then I’m too ashamed to go back.”

Does this story sound familiar?

Failing in college as a teen or young adult with learning differences is a stressful time for the entire family. Parents have already invested countless hours obtaining a diagnose and related services, attending and advocating at IEP meetings, securing accommodations, creating transition plans, planning social time, dealing with legal matters, and much more.

The student may experience failure internally and become depressed or anxious about their future, making it more difficult to motivate them to pursue a productive path forward.

When things don’t go as planned at the college level, it’s a good time to…

Step Back & Look at the Alternatives

Because of the developmental delay that often coexists with a learning disability, many young people with special needs are simply not prepared to manage the transition to college, even after making great strides during high school or while living at home. To quantify this further, about 40% of students who enrol in CIP’s transition programs have come after having a failed college experience.

When young people with learning differences experience this type of failure, it’s important to pick up the pieces as soon as possible and not allow the situation to define the individuals self-worth or long term outlook.

At CIP we continually reinforce that those with learning differences are made for good purpose and inherently valuable — meaning that they have strengths and challenges just like everyone else and deserve opportunities to define their own lives in the way that works best for them.

The most common scenarios that cause an unsuccessful college experience for young adults with learning differences are:

  1. The inability to manage executive functions (such as time management, organization, and multi-step planning)
  2. Social isolation (often seen in the form of excessive video games or electronics usage)
  3. Difficulty managing ADLs (Activities of Daily Life) such as laundry, hygiene, and money management
  4. Not having the self-advocacy skills to ask for help such or the self-disclosure skills to share that they learn differently than others
  5. Mental health issues such as elevated anxiety and/or depression (often due to a combination of the above)

Do any of these sound familiar to you?

Often all these factors can occur in the first couple of months in college, and parents are surprised to find out that their academically bright student was not prepared for reality of what is required to self-manage in a new setting with completely new expectations.

Examining Expectations

The classic college experience is not for everyone. Many people with learning differences such as ADHD develop special interests and/or specialized skills and talents that can serve as productive pathways to a more independent and financially sustainable lifestyle (albeit sometimes these can serve as escape routes too). Tapping into these areas of interest often generates motivation, drive, and progress.

Individuals with neurodiverse learning issues can experience great success, but this often takes trial and error, and unfortunately, much of the research shows that generally, lifespan outcomes for those with learning differences are poor. Therefore, a holistic support system that works to meet the individual at their present level understands their underlying needs, focuses on self-determination as the end goal, and provides an abundance of opportunities to facilitate mentors and friends is considered “best-practice” by many in the field of transition services.

The primary features of a productive educational program or support system often includes:

  • A setting that overall reinforces adult behaviour and is flexible enough to recognize and reinforce positive behaviours and incremental gains over rules and regulations
  • An independent living setting that allows for increasingly more independence in ones living setting but has close oversight and proactively deals with common issues before they escalate
  • Access to a variety of higher education and employment pathways and encourages hands-on exploration through volunteering or internships
  • Specialized supports and programming that are individualized to the person’s needs
  • A diverse yet close-knit group of participants that maintain an overall focus on growth
  • Experienced staff members who receive a multitude of relevant training and work closely as a team

There are numerous examples of highly successful people with learning differences. (Check out this slideshow of famous people with learning differences created with the help of Judy Bass, founder of Bass Educational Services).

Conducting Your Needs Assessment

Researching and planning for your young adult’s next moves can be difficult as access to information is not generally available. Many families turn to their trusted friends and advisors or utilize the services of an educational consultant to help determine good fitting alternatives.

Many families begin to ask questions such as: Is college really the best pathway? Would vocational training be a better option? What strengths and challenges are unique to my young adult and how will they be addressed in an educational setting? Will my student be happy?

Identifying Programs or Services

Once you’ve identified and priority areas that are important to your family, it’s time to start to look at your options. But before you jump in, first take a look at the variety of alternatives that exist:

Types of Programs & Services

From support programs developed at colleges to residential or gap year programs, there exist many solutions depending on who you talk to. However, the most important piece of making a well-planned transition back into college, employment, and life are to base realistic goals on an individual’s dreams and aspirations.

  • Summer Programs: Shorter-term experiences in a more relaxed environment usually focusing on socialization and fun
  • Therapeutic Programs: May be especially helpful if underlying mental health issues such as anxiety or depression are larger factors
  • Vocationally-Based Programs: For families primarily looking for employment preparation or on-the-job support
  • Colleges with Support Programs: Provide support options alongside a typical college experience
  • Gap Year or PG Programs: Provide a development or enrichment year prior to moving on to a college or vocational program
  • Transition Programs: Specialized and individualized support programs that typically provide an array of social, academic, life skills, and counseling services individualized to ones needs with supported residential living setting

Conducting Your Search

Many families head to the internet, ask friends and family members, or get advice from their student’s therapist, psychiatrist, or doctor. There are a few things to consider when conducting your search:

Involve Your Student

You are probably saying “easier said than done”, however even the slightest involvement can go along way to involve your student in the search for a “good fitting” support option. Focusing on the specific interests of the student can be motivating for them and keep them within their comfort zone. Preplanning and going over expectations can lessen anxiety for all. Have your student come up with a few questions that they can ask in advance. Try to avoid early mornings, traffic, long periods without snacks or refreshments, and give plenty of downtime when touring or visiting

Enlist the Help of an Educational Consultant

A person or team of people who have highly specialized knowledge of programs and services for young adults with LDs and can guide a family through the process of identifying a great option based on the student’s unique needs. (IECA provides reputable options)

Dig Deeper

While many websites offer great content and overviews, typically families will begin by having an exploratory phone call with a program, then arranging a virtual or in-person visit as a next step. These calls and visits allow families to ask important questions. Many programs suggest that the prospective student attends to visit.

Tip: Download this Shopping for a Program Checklist to help identify the various features and benefits of different programs and services as you research your options.

Making the leap from adolescence into young adulthood is a critical step in one’s life and sets the course for future years to come. Failure and challenges will happen and are part of being an adult. Building the knowledge, tools, and resilience to continue one’s journey as a happy and productive person is the real goal for all of us and should be a priority in your journey ahead.




As President of the College Internship Program (CIP), Dan strives to achieve long-term vision and alignment with CIP’s core values and founding principles by ensuring operations, marketing, strategy, and programming are effectively implemented across the organization.

The College Internship Program (CIP) is a comprehensive transition program that has specialized in the educational needs of teens and young adults with autism and learning differences for over 35 years, offering year-round and summer transition programs across the US since 1984.

Building a Culture of Inclusion

Anu Monga, Founder & Chairperson at TAISI, Former Head of School, Bangalore International School


When we speak of inclusive education, we refer to an approach in which children with different skills, needs, strengths and weaknesses learn together. The school adapts and integrates the specific learning requirements of students. Not only are differences valued but, more importantly, they are celebrated. As an administrator, I have been trying my best to put inclusiveness into action. While the word ‘inclusion’ can easily be found in every international school setting as part of the vision, mission, curriculum, or learning principles, we need to ask ourselves whether it is reflected in the school itself.


Journey to inclusion


I could say that my journey began very accidentally twenty years ago, when on the day of my interview for the position of Head of School, while walking around the school to get a feel of the space, I saw a boy sitting outside the classroom and felt that something was not right. When I asked the teacher why he was excluded from the classroom, she mentioned that the child was not able to understand anything and that handling him was beyond her capacity. Later on, I got to know that he had cerebral palsy and cognitive impairment. Shaken by the incident, I went inside the office and expressed to the School Board that if I was hired, I would like to ensure that this would not happen again, after which they gave me a green signal to initiate a change.

The first thing I did was to hire special educators, which marked the beginning of the Learning Centre journey. The most important change, however, was to move away from the idea of ‘handling’ children, which we perceive differently to ‘nurturing’ them, and creating real learning opportunities. I could say that was where my journey began, but truth be told, it began when I, myself, was a child growing up in Kashmir. I remember my teachers treating me different merely because I was left-handed. Teachers used to tie my left hand forcing me to use only my right hand.


The inclusive education environment


Although inclusive education is built and advocated on the principles of equity, more than anything else, experience has taught me that it requires a commitment of care. Apart from providing resources such as hiring the right staff, building facilities, and professional development opportunities, it is about building a culture of inclusion which is founded on awareness, sensitivity and resilience.

Every child in my school has an individual lesson plan; in some cases, students are fully integrated into all the classes, and in other cases it is a mix of integration and having their needs met through an individual lesson plan by specialised teachers. The needs can include visual impairment, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit disorder and learning difficulties, along with emotional, behavioural, language, speech, and communication disorders. Students who are unable to cope in the mainstream educational set-up can participate in the IGCSE and open schooling programme.


Cultural change


Working in India especially requires one to be very sensitive since awareness about inclusive education is still very much in its initial stages. The Hindi film Taare Zameen Par (‘Stars on Earth’), which addressed dyslexia, helped in creating more general awareness and acceptance about this, but there is still a long way to go. What we eventually need is patterns to be changed, and I believe that success is connected to our intrinsic motivation. While advocacy is important, we have to be careful not to overlook what drives us. Let us be honest with ourselves: why are we doing this? Is it because it is a trend, because it looks good, or because policies demand us to do so? The reason why this matters is because sometimes the motivation can mould the pattern, and when that happens there is a stronger force that drives change.

There are many instances where I faced parents in tears because they found it difficult to accept their child’s situation, or where parents persistently refused to accept certain learning interventions, or situations in which I or the staff had to deal with anger outbursts. I remember an incident when a parent refused to accept that his child had autism. The child was exceptionally talented in music; whatever anyone would hum the child would be able to translate into notes. I even ensured that the child was admitted into one of the top music schools in India, but all was in vain. The parent did not want this and persisted on his child taking the IGCSE exam which he kept on failing, and slowly we witnessed the child’s confidence fading away. One day the parent called me up in tears: “Who will take care of him after I die?”

Nothing can prepare you for this. However difficult it may be, I always try to keep an open mind, visualise the child and remain compassionate. As an educator you know that acceptance and harmony at home makes a real difference for each child.

Inclusive education includes much more than we initially think of. Once, parents came to meet me and told me that their two children were not getting accepted into any international school because of their gender identity. I chatted with the kids and accepted them on the spot. Today, one of them is a famous artist and the other one runs a chain of beauty salons. Over the years I have witnessed many beautiful stories: from a visually impaired child getting acceptance into Brown University, to a child with severe dyslexia winning the Princess Diana Cup for Art.


Developing a skilled professional community


To build a culture of inclusion takes work and a community-wide approach. The growing demand for Learning Needs trainers led me to develop the professional development platform under the TAISI umbrella where we curate regular, ongoing learning events for teachers, leaders and students within the region. We have organised workshops and training for schools across India to build a culture of inclusion. Beyond India, I am part of the Advisory Board of Next Frontier Inclusion, which supports schools across the world on their journeys towards inclusion. My next step is a new initiative I’m working on called ‘Structures of Joy’, of which one of the main pillars is to promote inclusive education. The journey continues.



Anu Monga is recognised for her leadership of international and inclusive education in India. She has led schools in New Delhi, Kodaikanal, Mumbai and Bangalore.

Contact Anu via her LinkedIn profile.


What is expected of a Board in today’s world?

Michael Thompson, Director/CEO of Hillel Academy, Kingston, Jamaica



What is expected of a Board in today’s world?

(This article first appeared in International School Leader Magazine, October 2020 issue.)

I was recruited for my present job in 2019 because of my experience and yet nothing that I had experienced in a long career in international school leadership had prepared me, or any Head, for the events that have rapidly evolved in 2020. The international school community has shown that it will emerge from this global pandemic in a new and potentially better position due mainly to the sharing and caring of the international school’s community and flexible, decisive board and school leadership.


In its simplest form, the main responsibility for the Board, pre-COVID-19 was policy and oversight of school finances. The rapidly changing situation caused by the global pandemic has required a different mindset where the board and school leadership had, by necessity, to respond effectively and quickly to the rapidly involving situation. I will give an example of one week in the life of our international school:

  • Monday, March 9th – The accreditation visitor informed me that much of our teaching was very old fashioned with minimal use of technology.
  • Wednesday, March 11th – In anticipation of a worsening coronavirus situation I wrote to parents and said from Friday 13th students should keep their books at home.
  • Thursday, March 14th – The first COVID-19 cases were reported in Jamaica and we announced school closure.
  • This was followed by a weekend of the most committed staff professional development on how to use technology as the medium of instruction.
  • Monday, March 16th – The campus was closed but school re-opened with online education. Many mistakes were made but we continued working and learning and by the end of the Easter break we had an online programme we were proud of and comparable with many in the international schools’ world.


However, we were faced with a crisis. The country’s economy is largely based on tourism and the island was in lockdown. Consequently, many parents had financial difficulties. We have a very attractive campus and strong co-curricular programme, both of which were not available due to campus closure. When this was added to the difficulties parents had in guiding their young children’s online education, there was a demand for a fees reduction.


Response from the Board

The Board reacted promptly. Senior leadership produced various cost-cutting scenarios and we were able to reduce the term three fees and maintain most of our student enrolment. We began the 2019/2020 academic year with 702 students. We had more student withdrawals than usual during the year, without enforcing the usual financial penalty for withdrawal which was unrealistic in these times. We commissioned a professional video showcasing our use of technology in education, and opened the new school year with 702 students, online, at last year’s fees level. This was only possible with the support of a flexible, responsive Board.


Preparation for a new and different year

As a leader who believes in empowering others, I set up a task force for planning the school’s re-opening in September 2020 and had expected to involve the full Board and parents as much as possible. According to reports on the weekly Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE) online conversations, many schools have succeeded with that model. But that was not how we developed, in reality.


Teachers, and parents, who were burnt out from the unusual four months of online education as well as all the other changes in their lives, needed a break. And so, we decided to keep the community informed with regular newsletters and to involve them by obtaining their opinions through parent and teacher surveys. The drive for preparing the school for the anticipated re-opening of campus, with student safety as the priority, was led by the Senior Management Team, Board Chairman and Finance Committee with regular updates and additional meetings for all other Board members.


A leadership model through crisis and change

In the crisis caused by the coronavirus, we discovered that our community expected and needed clear and decisive leadership. They wanted reassurance that the school was rapidly evolving to provide for the safe and appropriate education for their children.


The community wanted to be consulted but expected the board to show leadership. We found the ‘executive’ model, of a dynamic, hard-working School Management Team supported by a fully informed Board Chair, to be the most effective way of leading this school out of crisis mode. In my opinion this was only acceptable for a maximum of four weeks but moved us into planning for the future sustainability of the school.


I am a firm believer in open governance and community decision-making but, in these times, the more streamlined model was required in order to respond to the unique situation that we faced this year. Now, as we return to the new reality, the Board must be prepared to revert to its usual, more distant role of overseeing the direction of the school.


The global pandemic forced schools to totally re-think their purpose and delivery of international education. I firmly believe that we must take the positives from this time and move forward confidently. Past norms have been challenged and often found wanting. The international schools must continue with the best of its practices and incorporate the new achievements in order to develop and move forward.


Advice for Board and Leadership collaboration

  • The key school relationship is between the school Head and Board Chair; work on it.
  • AAIE is providing an outstanding source of ideas and support through its weekly online conversations.
  • Keep wellness and sustainability a priority. We are asking a huge amount of ourselves and our colleagues. If we are to lead them, we must look after their, and our own health.
  • It is essential that Board members understand their roles. An excellent, easy way to achieve this is by using the Educational Collaborative for International School’s (ECIS) Board Governance Training online platform.
  • The school community deserves to see clear, decisive governance and leadership.
  • Boards should mirror their community in terms of diversity.
  • Grow your own talent; perhaps schools should re-think their recruitment strategy as a core, professionally developed local teachers and administrators provide stability in uncertain times.
  • Always be moving forward. To remain in the same place does not work in international education.





Michael Thompson is Director and CEO of Hillel Academy in Kingston, the largest international school in Jamaica

Connect with Michael on LinkedIn or Twitter @mickthompson49