Students at the centre: Leadership in an international school
Based across 4 sites in The Hague, The British School in The Netherlands (BSN) is one of Europe’s largest and most longstanding British international schools.
The BSN provides a supportive but challenging and stimulating educational environment for international children from around the globe.
Here David Porritt, Headteacher of BSN Junior School Leidschenveen, gives his perspective on school leadership and the importance of placing student success at the core of what he does.
I’ve been leading schools now for 18 years both in the UK and overseas. As a school leader I’m fundamentally focused on the learning and growth of all people (little and big!) who come to our campus every day.
Reflections of the world
International schools are unique environments, creating in one locale, two very important reflections of the wider world in which we live.
› Cultural diversity
This first reflection is a rich tapestry of variation and cultural expression amongst the students themselves. Watching multilingual, multi-aware and multi-national students working together with humility, respect and tolerance is truly inspiring. There is always so much to learn from one another.
› A strong community
The second is the considerable involvement of the international parent body in the school community. This network provides an incredible resource of intellectual specialisation, professional expertise and knowledge that supports and enhances children’s learning.
This community connection is, as an American principal friend of mine would say, "An awesome thing!"
The diversity of International Day
One only has to reflect on the annual International Day we celebrate at our school each year, the day when everyone comes dressed in national costume, to realise that we have, quite literally the whole world together in one place, standing shoulder to shoulder as one.
International Day is an amazing sight and absolutely my favourite day of the school year. That’s because it reminds me of one of the biggest challenges we face in the 21st century: working out how to live together in peace and harmony, to steward the earth’s resources and celebrate the cultural diversity that makes our world so exciting.
Teaching for the future
In the end, that’s one of the core purposes of international schools. There is an imperative that students not only learn what they require in the here-and-now, but also learn to be open to new emergent knowledge - and to be ready for a future unknown.
Preparing students for the unknown
And so, for the most part as a school leader I spend my time thinking about what we need to do to prepare our young people for that uncertainty.
We ask questions like:
- What matters most?
- What things should we do - or not do?
- Is a traditional understanding of school, with a formal curriculum at the centre, going to work in the future?
- Will we get to where we need to go if we don’t challenge ourselves about how we do things?
Leading a dialogue on learning
At our school there is a continual conversation with students, staff and parents about what really matters.
It’s a "re-imagining", if you like, of the meaning of great learning - a perspective that places the student at the heart of everything.
This approach is not only concerned with gaining knowledge, it is also focused on empowering, enabling and equipping students to learn how to learn, so they can engage with a continually evolving future.
Developing the next generation
Our challenge and responsibility is to develop the next generation of ethically and morally responsible leaders. It is what underpins all of the activities that students get involved in. It’s what we, and they, do all day.
I’m convinced this development works best when we establish high levels of trust amongst students, parents and staff. Within a trusting environment everyone is willing to make themselves open to learning, from both their successes and mistakes.
Helping students succeed
And so, international school leadership at our school is primarily concerned with student success.
We believe that all children are capable of achieving and becoming the best that they can. We like to see them not only as they are now, but also as they might become.
When expats ask me what I do all day, there is a simple answer - I help people to be their best!! Helping teachers be great teachers, parents be great parents and students be great learners gives us all the best chance of success.
David Porritt is the Headteacher of the BSN Junior School Leidschenveen campus in The Hague.