Strategic Enhancing Retention and School Culture Through Strategic Professional and Organizational Development

By Yael Cass, PhD., ISS Director of School Operations Services

Originally published in ISS NewsLinks, Volume XXXX, February 2024.

In our collective pursuit of enhancing school culture, employee engagement, and student success, we place a strong emphasis on the development of an organization and the cultivation of a positive school culture. This is especially crucial in international schools, where the distinction between academic and non-academic staff presents unique challenges and opportunities.

We are committed to hiring the best educators and offering them world-class opportunities for a significant reason. Schools are in a constant battle to attract top talent. This competition revolves around who can offer more benefits and opportunities. In this race, it’s easy to overlook the fact that educators, while being vital organs of our schools, do not operate in isolation. They share their educational space with other professionals who are equally important to the smooth operation of a school. The Yin and Yang philosophy serves as an apt metaphor for this scenario, where opposite forces are interconnected and counterbalancing.

In the context of a school environment, the Yin and Yang metaphor extends beyond its traditional meaning. It symbolizes the harmonious balance needed between different roles within the educational ecosystem. Just as Yin and Yang represent complementary forces in nature, in a school setting, academic and non-academic staff are two sides of the same coin, each playing a crucial role in maintaining the equilibrium of the school’s environment.

The academic staff, or the ‘Yang’, are the visible and celebrated aspect of school operations. As frontline educators, they directly impact student learning and development with their dynamic and outward-facing roles, actively disseminating knowledge and skills. Conversely, the non-academic staff, or the ‘Yin’, though less visible, are equally vital. They provide essential support and infrastructure, including administrative, maintenance, and operational roles, crucial for the academic side to flourish and for the overall success of the school. In the ideal school environment, these two forces coexist in harmony, each acknowledging and supporting the other.

At the heart of this dynamic is the notion that employees, regardless of their role, must be treated in a manner that not only acknowledges their contributions but also fosters a sense of belonging and motivation. Fostering career development opportunities is vital for organizational growth and employee motivation. It’s about providing equal opportunities for professional growth and career advancement for both educators and non-educators. Traditionally, educators have limited career development options, primarily between instructional roles and leadership roles. Being creative and innovative in this realm can provide avenues for supporting and enhancing opportunities for educators, making them feel valued without necessarily investing more resources. The allocation of resources for professional development should be considered with a deep understanding of the internal learning gaps and skills gaps, while also paying attention to the strategic plan and direction the school is taking, as well as staff career development aspirations.

Developing a system where career development is reflected in the current salary scales through small increments is essential. This system should recognize not only the completion of full educational degrees but also ongoing professional development that directly impacts efficiency or enhances capabilities. Such an approach will boost employees’ confidence, self-efficacy, and motivation. Additionally, measuring the success of professional development initiatives and their impact on organizational growth and development is crucial for the effective allocation of resources.

This systematic approach to professional development means that resources can be invested where they are required and will also allow the professional development of local staff, offering them pathways to acquire skills and qualifications that could elevate their careers to an international standard. For local staff, this investment in professional development is not just about enhancing their skills; it’s about empowering them with the opportunity to compete on a global stage, should they choose to pursue opportunities beyond their home country.

The development of an organization and the nurturing of a positive school culture in international schools hinge on a nuanced understanding of equity. It’s about recognizing that while equal pay might not always be feasible, the commitment to providing equitable opportunities for professional growth is both a moral imperative and a practical necessity for productivity and growth. By investing in the development of all employees, international schools can create a more motivated, loyal, and diverse workforce, ultimately enriching the educational experience for students and their families.

Recognizing and understanding these nuances, ISS offers industry-based, globally recognized certification and training programs for operations staff, like in HR or educational facilities management. These opportunities expose local staff to international standards and enable them to lead and become experts in their fields. We have already seen graduates with certifications who attest they feel empowered and that this has helped them to better lead and feel confident and empowered. This kind of professional development not only enhances individual capabilities but also elevates the overall standard of the institution, contributing to a more robust and effective educational environment.

If you are interested in organizational development and operations services that will assist you in developing a systematic professional development system to enhance and improve school culture and operational efficiency, please reach out to us. Our team, equipped with extensive expertise and a commitment to educational excellence, is
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