Reflections from ISS President Liz Duffy

April 2018

Distributed Leadership and Partnerships


Liz Duffy, ISS President

When we adopted a new strategic plan 18 months ago, one of the pillars of the plan was “collaborative leadership.”  By that, not only did we mean greater coordination across ISS services and more distributed leadership through all levels of the organization, but we also aimed to develop strategic partnerships with other organizations in the field to better meet the needs of the international school community.

The desire to collaborate is in many ways in ISS’s DNA. Indeed, since our inception in 1955, we have worked with partners of all types – educators, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government entities – to strengthen international education.  Our founder, Arthur Sweetser, championed global collaboration and peace by supporting the formation of both the League of Nations and the United Nations, and in addition to ISS, he also helped to establish The International School of Geneva, the United Nations International School (UNIS), and the International Baccalaureate (IB). More recently, we have been involved with the development of AISH, the World Languages Initiative, the Child Protection Task Force, and ISS-ULink.

Since the adoption of our strategic plan, most of our core services have established new strategic partnerships to better serve the international school community. In the recruitment area, we have collaborated with many organizations, including AASSA, Tri Association and Teach Away, to provide greater access to candidates and schools. Our school supply team has worked with School Specialty to simplify school supply orders and control costs, and on the curricular side, we have burgeoning partnerships with the Common Ground Collaborative, Lumo Education, Lehigh University and Utah Valley University to address the evolving needs of international schools and educators.

In the Spring issue of NewsLinks, we’re pleased to announce two new collaborations to benefit the international school community with Schrole and the Dart Organization. As you’ll read, while the specific purposes of each arrangement differ, each shares a commitment to supporting international education. Look for further news of partnerships in the coming months as well.

Looking backwards, we’ve learned a few lessons about collaboration that I hope will strengthen all of our alliances going forward and benefit others interested in working together to serve the international school community.

In the spirit of collaborative leadership, learning and innovation, we very much look forward to continuing to develop our existing partnerships, the new alliances featured in the Spring issue of NewsLinks, and future collaborations. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have ideas for how we can work together to better serve the international school community.

  • 1Collaborations work when there is trust, a shared purpose, and a win:win:win situation.  Those features are easy to elaborate on paper but take time and work to achieve.  By win:win:win, I mean that collaborations should benefit not only the two collaborating organizations, but most importantly the clients we both aim to serve.
  • 2Even the strongest collaborations take work, because coordinating different systems, incentives, cultures, etc. is not easy. As all international educators quickly discover, you don’t fully understand your own culture until you’ve immersed yourself in another culture and been confronted with assumptions and practices that you previously took for granted.  The same is true for organizational cultures. Over time, organizations fall into habits and solidify practices that may or may not still be effective.  Working closely with another organization with a different culture very quickly surfaces both the strengths and weaknesses of your own practices and policies.
  • 3The work required to maintain strong collaborations means that you learn a lot from collaborations, and that learning is essential for innovation, which is another pillar of ISS’s strategic plan.  As all teachers know, students can understand a concept in theory and do well on a classroom exam, but the true test of learning comes in authentic situations in which students must use what they’ve learned in new and novel settings.  Again, the same is true for collaborating organizations – it’s essential to be clear upfront though a term sheet or memorandum of understanding what you hope to achieve and how you will achieve it, but many challenges and opportunities don’t surface until you start working together. Fortunately, if you have a common purpose and a shared commitment to continuous improvement, you can learn and adapt together.