Getting staffing right

There is nothing more important for any school than to ensure that it has recruited the very best people and that they will fully embrace and serve its mission. Staff recruitment, induction and professional development are central to success. They are the keys that unlock the early success of the school as its founding teams come together and define its future. Getting it right from the outset will establish the culture and set the standards for the years ahead – getting it wrong from the outset could compromise the mission and result in reputational loss that is hard to turnaround.

The two articles on this page are provided by experienced headteachers. The first in the form of top tips and the second a case study which explores the relationshiop between professional development and staff appraisal.

Top Tips

Matthew Farthing has spent twenty five years in international education and the last twenty involved in positions of educational leadership as Head of School and Principal.  He currently serves as Principal at Nord Anglia International School Dubai.   I asked Matthew to suggest some top tips for getting professional capital right from the start. He credits his colleague, Louise Nolan for some of the background reading that she shared with him as she completes her NAE MA at Kings College London. I am grateful for their helpful suggestions.


Safeguarding: No staff recruitment should take place without adherence to clear policies for safeguarding and safer recruitment. Candidates should understand that the selection process is subject to the school’s safer recruitment practices and that all appropriate checks additional to references are completed.

The school may also draw on the advisory and support services of regional and international associations such as:

Who applies?

It is important to understand the international teacher and make the right connection for each particular school. Staff are attracted to international schools for different reasons and may be categorized differently also. In respect of this the individual school should decide how it structures its contracts of employment considering the relative cost of staff of different experience and family status.

Hayden categorises ‘Childless career professionals; Mavericks (‘free and independent spirits’) and Career professionals with families’ with each group holding different expectations and costing the school differently.  The dominant pattern of recruitment into the English speaking international schools tends to privilege applications coming from the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland. Increasingly the more internationally minded schools also recognize the value of employing more international teachers and more teachers from the country where the school is based.

Considering all of the above a contractual minefield opens as the school decides on its salary and benefits structures often differentiating between ‘local’, ‘local hire’ and ‘offshore hire’. Whatever it decides the need for transparency, even when there may be different systems of compensation in place, should be upheld. Occasionally schools working in the start-up phase will award spot salaries according to need that leads to a later leveling and restructuring that challenges morale.

Finding the right staff and how to attract them

The investment in finding the right staff is an essential and considerable cost. No single approach is necessarily better than another and each has a different impact:

  • Advertising and follow up selection - can reach many candidates, is expensive, and the school is in full control at all stages.
  • Recruitment agencies - when they know the school well can offer a more bespoke service to provide fewer candidates who they think will suit the school.
  • Recruitment fairs (c.f. Search Associates and C.I.S.) -  operate globally and provide a wide range of candidates serving many schools at the same time with a resulting sense that offers and decisions are sometimes being made too quickly.
  • Referrals and contacts from within groups of associated schools - the growth of legacy branded schools (c.f. Harrow, Brighton College, etc.) and the development of global groups (c.f. Nord Anglia, GEMS) offers further distinctive advantages of opportunity to recruit from within and from standalone recruitment exercises. A recent London based Nord Anglia Education recruitment exercise OTOS (‘outstanding teachers for outstanding schools’) that served thirty three of its forty three schools worldwide saw a footfall of some four hundred and fifty interviews over the course of three days additional to those taking place locally and some shortlisting over skype. Nearly ten thousand applications were received for three hundred and eighty six advertised positions! Taking up much of a hotel in central London the Group also devotes time to teachers considering a first move overseas introducing their individual schools, talking about living in the particular countries they operate in and introducing the defining characteristics of Nord Anglia Education.

The complex world of international education is one that can leave the teacher feeling vulnerable.  Tristan Bunnell writes about a ‘global international precariat’ of teachers who now operate outside of their national systems, exposed to practices that are unfamiliar and do not provide the security that they had been used to in their home country. The best schools understand their responsibilities for professional care and should be able to express that in the recruitment process as well as in the security of the package it provides.


Culture shock: Schools should expect that for some staff moving away from their home into a new international environment they will experience culture shock both in relation to working in the new country and in relation to working in the new school that is often very different to the school environment of the ‘home’ or previous country.  Maintaining close contact with the individual from the time of the offer of appointment through until s/he takes up post, often as much as nine months later, is important.  On arrival, first impressions really count. The little things such as the smooth arrangement of flights, the personalized collection at the airport, a comfortable first night, prioritizing the accommodation arrangements, making sure there is water and snacks in the fridge etc. (and each school should make their own checklist) are what set the tone for a smooth relocation and then positive engagement in the school.

Time needs to be given to both explain and allow for the administrative procedures, medical checks, visas, work permits, and all of the arrangements that are specific to each locality. Time also needs to be given for the individual to enjoy being in the new country, riding the highs of culture shock experiencing the new while gathering what is needed for the home and relaxing into country before starting at school.

The importance of a professional HR team that understands the legal and cultural details, regulatory structures and that have effective relationships with the local authorities in the particular location cannot be overstated.

A strong HR manager working with the school leadership knows how good and effective induction benefits the school as much as it does the individual and the reverse is equally true –   weak messages from the outset coupled with poor induction or lack of it, limits the potential for staff smooth transition, engagement and performance.    

The very best induction is team based and while it should have clear representation from the senior leaders in the school the head of department or direct line manager has a role as well as the staff in HR and the administrative wing of the school. Many schools will further include a ‘buddy’ to mentor new staff giving additional support that is separate from the traditional hierarchies of the school.

Development and retention of staff

Several key factors determine teachers’ decisions to stay in their schools:

  • Effective leadership and management: Other chapters deal more fully with this but certainly where there is little clarity and consistency of leadership staff loyalties to remain in the school will be weak.   
  • A Friendly environment and collaborative colleagues: Staff satisfaction and employee engagement surveys commonly reveal the importance of the environment and the happiness quotient of school culture. While it is difficult to legislate for a friendly environment and collaborative colleagues there is much to be gained from attending to the little things –  creating attractive and well cared for common areas, placing plants around the building, having an active staff common room committee that includes all staff , preparing and updating public displays of student work, providing school support for staff refreshments, extending a culture of giving thanks and appropriate praise institutionalized in staff meetings, having a really great reception team and continue to build that list.
  • Opportunities for career development and a sense of fulfilment and purpose at work. High performing schools embrace the understanding of the ‘growth mindset’ seeking continuing improvement for all – students and staff alike, aware that our thinking patterns have a systematic influence on motivation and expectations for performance. The opportunities for reflection and review that are built into the induction programme set the tone for the ongoing processes of professional performance review and professional development.
  • Best professional performance review work is ongoing, centred on the individual, systematic, and relates to the development needs of the school. It is recorded, is  based in classroom practice and does not reinforce the hierarchies of authority within the school but rather opens the potential for constructive feedback with teachers talking about learning.  As Little writes: “School improvement is most surely and thoroughly achieved when teachers engage in frequent, continuous, and increasingly concrete and precise talk about teaching practice . . . adequate to the complexities of teaching, [and] capable of distinguishing one practice and its virtue from another”. *
  • Professional development is central to staff retention and to the improvement of schools. Large groups of schools such as Nord Anglia Education, invest heavily in resourcing their staff virtual learning environments while providing  residential leadership training and partnering with external agencies such as their bespoke Masters in Education provided by Kings College.  Smaller groups and independent schools may not have the leverage that comes with a corporate budgets but the opportunities remain considerable. Positive outcomes result when schools cluster together formally through professional organisations such as COBIS, FOBISEA, BSME, LAHC and the dynamic sub-groups within particular cities or regions as well as through overarching curriculum providers such as the IBO.  Schools will select from the plethora of independent trainers and consultants feeding from the growing international school market most often finding business through positive referrals from other schools in the locality. Commonly, great outcomes also result from the more informal ‘job alike workshops’ as teachers from neighbouring schools come together for professional exchange as schools encourage the release of expertise  sharing the quest for professional improvement.


Last, but by no means least, schools will both attract and retain staff when their compensation packages are fair and provide security. Benchmarking salaries is good sense and of equal importance are the further benefits of housing, healthcare, flights, and relocation allowances. The ship can be spoiled for the ‘haporth (half penny worth) of tar’ if basics like the cost of visas and supporting documentation is charged back to the employee. Studies indicate that for most involved in educational service outside of their home country, the salary may not be as important as upholding a school culture which evidences care for its staff. The security that there is sensible healthcare provision for the individual and dependent family members is especially significant and within a wide tariff band schools get what they pay for. It is essential to pay attention to the small print, for all these items can make a difference: pre-existing conditions, maternity costs, sports injuries, elective surgery, cover outside of the territory where the school is located and the possible invalidity of insurance is the claimant is subject to the influence of alcohol or drugs all need to be considered.

Concluding remarks

The success of the school rests on how well it manages its recruitment, the clarity and security of the compensation packages it commits, how it manages professional development and its culture of staff appraisal and review. All features interlock and all carry specific cost implications. The very best schools who also attract the very best staff can do so when they show that by taking up a place at a particular school, the individual will also find security, satisfaction and personal professional improvement - in showing that, the school can assume the same for the children in its care.


Bunnell, T., 'Teachers in international schools: a global educational 'precariat' in Globalisation Societies and Education Vol 14, 2016- Routledge

Hayden, M. Introduction to International Education, 2006, SAGE Publications

Little, J. “Teachers as Colleagues,” in V. Richardson-Koehler (Ed.). (1998). Educators Handbook. White Plains, NY: Longman.

Case Study - Getting Professional Capital Right

KAUST School, Saudi Arabia

Why professional capital?

In 2009 we started The KAUST School (TKS), a Pre-K-12 International School that serves a Science and Technology Research University on the shores of the Red Sea 70 kilometers north of Jeddah.

Early in the planning efforts, decisions were made to ensure excellent facilities, state of the Art Technology, and to offer all students an exceptional inquiry-based International Baccalaureate education.  With the mission as touchstone, the school’s founding educators agreed that our primary focus would not be facility, or technology, or even curriculum, but Professional Capital.

In their article ‘The Power of Professional Capital’, Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves write: “The best way you can support and motivate teachers is to create the conditions where they can be effective day after day together. And this isn’t just about intra-school collaboration….It’s about the whole profession.” (Fullan & Hargreaves 2013)

Fullan and Hargreaves advocate for a new collective resource they term ‘Professional Capital’ in order to transform schools.  The strategy involves harnessing the skill and commitment of all teachers to create a powerful impact. This has been successfully accomplished in Finland and other high achieving systems.

What is professional capital?

“Teach like a pro’ is the phrase used regarding the professionalization necessary to build professional capital across a school.  Hargreaves and Fullan characterize good teachers as persons who show commitment to constant learning and development, openness to collegial feedback, respect for evidence, responsiveness to students and parents, and  appetite for uplift, innovation and continuous improvement.

One of the KAUST Middle School classrooms may offer an effective lens through which to see Professional Capital at work.

Exhibit A: Kevin Rees, Middle School Social Studies (Individuals and Societies).

Kevin Rees seems to operate best at the confluence of a wide range of student activity.  As he greets students at the door by name for his next class, he hails two others in the hall about their break time planning session for Sports Day.  As students settle into their groups and begin work autonomously on their World War II unit of study, he confirms with a visiting administrator the lunch time meeting about the school’s Parade of Nations.  Outside his room and down the hall hang the School House banners (think Hogwarts), Kevin has ordered and hung these in the flag pavilion as planned and designed by students.

One might anticipate the through lines of this work to be professional self-confidence and a knack for management.These are present.However, also present are his through lines of patient generosity and a self-reflective desire to continue to tweak and adopt actions that will further improve student learning. Kevin states: "Who I want to be is all about my relationships, both with the students and with the other people on the staff.  It’s part of my educational philosophy – working with others positively, I can have the greatest possible impact.”

When asked for an example of impact, he describes a 9th grade Individuals and Societies project, The Film Festival on Refugees. Leading up to the Festival, students led and directed their own learning, and  produced evidence of this learning in their films.

“It built in a real sense of learning, authentic learning, and a highlight for me was my student Nika who had a breakdown moment when doing a reflection. As part of the project in a final required segment, all students filmed the thought process.  Nica sat and started talking and in an unscripted moment she broke down in tears, because she suddenly saw herself as part of the refugee problem. She was a fellow citizen. Her empathy was apparent and it was a tremendous learning moment, impacted by her understanding of the issue and even more deeply by exploring her own identity, and her connection and ability to play a part in solving the problem.”

Mr. Rees is a beloved teacher, colleague, and student council sponsor. Because of his Professional Capital, he positively impacts student learning and well-being. He is satisfied that he came to The KAUST School where there is an “All hands on deck” culture.  He describes The KAUST School as a place where “adults can enjoy self-direction, responsibility, building something in service to students and in service to communities. “

One might consider Kevin Rees a “one of a kind” but in fact, there are many such teachers at The KAUST School, because the school targeted Professional Capital as a priority asset, and the school developed tools and tactics to ensure conditions were created for Professional Capital to grow.

Recruiting professional capital

Jumping back in time, in our beginnings in 2009, the planning team developed a recruitment strategy that fit in with our professional capital aim. We knew the trajectory for enrolment growth was steep, and the anticipated 240 students Pre-K through 12 would likely grow to 2250 students at maturity by 2020. While we put a premium on IB trained professionals, and at minimum sought teachers who demonstrated a commitment to inquiry-based practice, teachers were hired only when the team had determined that they were optimistic and collaborative professionals, and only when we had determined that they possessed a genuine love for children. As one of the Principals stated, “At the end of the day, I always ask.  ‘Would you want that person in your space all day long?’” “All day Long” became a sound bite for our staff recruitment team. Children are with their teacher “all day long.” Love of children, optimism and an eagerness to collaborate became non-negotiables. They were principles built into the TKS Pedagogy.

What attracted these types of teachers to the blank slate of TKS? What could we offer as a start up? From the outset, we offered many excellent incentives, but our teachers would remark time and again, that the values and beliefs espoused by recruiters (love of children, care, optimism and collaboration) were the drivers that motivated them to join a pioneering team.  Relationships were central to attracting the people we wanted, and also to building the human capital that would allow us to excel.

Harvard Professor Roland Barth states: “Four years of school teaching - and ten years as a principal - convinces me that the nature of relationships among adults who inhabit a school has more to do with a school’s quality and character, with the accomplishments of its pupils and the professionalism of its teachers than any other factor.” (Barth, 2001, in his introduction to Teacher Teams That Get Results)

Adult relationships were the cornerstone at recruitment and beyond. We actually built an on-boarding system that focused on relationships and built professional capital.

Induction that develops professional capital

For orientation we developed a two-day TRUST workshop. We believed the experience would ground new hires in the collaborative professional practices that our school found to be the bedrock to success. Through the start up years, the orientation exercises helped launch each cohort of new teachers with a good deal of professional capital amongst and between themselves, as well as with the faculty who oriented before them. The learning activities were developed with specific outcomes in mind. For example:

By the end of this session, we will have….

  • Explored issues of trust as they relate to building a positive school culture and productive professional learning community
  • Investigated two conceptual models for analyzing school/team cultures of trust
  •  Applied the models to REAL LIFE scenarios
  • Explored “courageous conversations”
  • Learned some tools for navigating “courageous conversations.”
  • Practiced using the tools
  • Reflected on learning activities, tools, content (trust).

As Kevin Rees recalls, “From the start there was an emphasis on relationship. Also on feedback.  We have to be able to take feedback to improve. TKS promotes that. Every year we start with a plus/delta exercise we call “Thorns and Roses.” We review what worked and what didn’t the year before and we continuously assess and adjust. Part of professional capital is recognizing mistakes, and looking at feedback. How can we improve if we don’t look at bumps in the road?”

Teacher-led appraisal that develops professional capital

As the school developed, we also initiated an appraisal system congruent with our values and beliefs.  We had a rocky start, but overtime, with help from an outside consultant, Tony Burkin of InterLEAD, we developed a system based on adult learning principles, that furthered our ability to team and self-author and professionalize.

Bill Powell and Ochan Kusuma-Powell in their book ‘Teacher self-supervision: Why teacher evaluation has failed and what we can do about it’ (2015), highlight the complexities facing leaders committed to transforming appraisal. When appraisal is not aligned with learning principles nor congruent with school mission it is largely ineffective. Embedded within appraisal are high levels of systems and social complexity. This makes the task of reframing appraisal into a meaningful and relevant system - one offering a high impact on teaching practice and student achievement – very difficult.

With our consultant’s help we began a multi-year process to transform our appraisal process. We started by working on professional capital, as opposed to starting with teaching practice. In other words, rather than looking at pedagogy and strategy at the classroom level and student level, we instead focused on adult interaction and adult reflection and commitment to growth.  Thus we structured our own inquiry into our practice developmentally, attending to the following professional practices, not as optional but as required:

  • Develop teachers as creators of research; not just consumers of research;
  • Open up classrooms to adult learners;
  • Open up practice for discussion;
  • Create a psychologically safe environment for lesson observations;
  • Engage in honest and critical conversations on individual teaching practice
  • Challenge each other to innovate and improve;
  • Strengthen relationships and a culture of professionalism, evolving it from a culture of compliance
  • Teachers are challenged and empowered to self-identify areas of inquiry and growth;
  • Teachers lead their own critical, analytical and challenging appraisal conversations with insight and honesty;
  • Teachers develop high impact teaching teams;
  • Teachers develop high impact reflective practice.

The KAUST School wanted our school to support the thesis of Jim Collins work BUILT TO LAST. Therefore we enabled those closest to our core business of learning –teachers--to “self-author” solutions. We remain dedicated to growing collaborative culture that is non-threatening, that supports risk and failure, and that ultimately is innovative and inspiring.


Professional Capital Final Tips:

It’s who you recruit:

  • Recruit teachers who love children, love learning and love collaboration
  • Recruit teachers who demonstrate a “Growth Mindset”
  • Recruit teachers who are open to feedback, reflective and excited to innovate and improve
  • Recruit teachers who have good relationships/strong interpersonal skills
  • Recruit teachers who you would want in a child’s space “All Day Long”

It’s how you orientate:

  • Prioritize Professional Capital and School Culture as topics to address at Orientation.
  • Build capacity to team and collaborate. Introduce tools and tactics and allow team members to practice and reflect
  • Explore the topic of “courageous conversations,” allowing members to role play

It’s how you develop, support and appraise:

  • Foster an adult learning culture, concentrating first on professional practice
  • Provide system support to ensure an on-going focus on professional practice
  • Anticipate a multi-year journey
  • Model and support risk, failure, and reflection; review and learn from ‘thorns and roses’ and ‘bumps in the road.’
  • Take time to develop a learning-focused appraisal system  (SHIFT from a compliance-focused appraisal system)

I am very grateful to Madeleine Hewitt, The KAUST School Director, 2009-2016, for writing this article.

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