Leadership Spotlight: Joel Cohen

ISS Administrative Search was proud to lead the Director search for Mahindra International School in Pune, India. Congratulations to Joel Cohen for accepting the position, beginning July 2022! He is currently the High School Principal at the French-American International School in San Francisco.

Joel holds a Master of Education from the University of Paris-Est; a Master 1 (previously known as Maitrise) from the University of Rouen; and Diplome d’Etudes Universitaires et Technologiques from the Ecole de Compiegne, UTC

In this feature below, learn how Joel discovered his passion for education, the type of leadership culture he promotes, and what drew him to this new chapter at Mahindra International School.

What drew you to pursue the world of education? And what drew you into international education specifically?

I had never planned on becoming a teacher! It was the late eighties and there was such a shortage of science teachers in France that the ministry of education was aggressively recruiting young scientific graduates and throwing them in classrooms with absolutely no training. I started from one day to the next in a difficult neighborhood in the north of Paris and immediately fell in love with the profession. I discovered I had a natural ability to teach and to connect with students, and quickly realized the life-changing impact I could have on my students.

From the underserved neighborhoods of the north of Paris where I started my career helping students access a better life through education to my leadership experience in a world-class international school in the innovative and open-minded San Francisco Bay Area, my passion for education has never stopped growing and I feel blessed for the opportunity I’ve had to serve so many students and educators.

Joel Cohen at the French-American School in San Francisco

As early as I can remember, I have always defined success as the ability to travel and to discover new cultures. Born to an Egyptian father and an English mother, my siblings and I grew up in a small apartment in the north of Paris but were lucky enough to spend all our summers traveling extensively around the world. We were taught that the most precious privilege one could ever possess is the ability to explore our world and to discover the cultural diversity of its people. When I realized that international education would allow me to combine my passion for teaching and learning with my travel aspirations and my desire to contribute to a better world, I immediately knew this is where my career would develop.

Where has your career taken you?

I am currently the High School Principal at the French-American International School in San Francisco. This is the very place where I started my international career 20 years ago, after having taught physics and chemistry in French public schools for a decade. When I joined French-American, I was determined not to be there for more than two or three years. Being a scientist with IB experience, the entire world was open and I knew I could easily find a position in the international circuit. From Head of the Science Department to Assistant Principal and eventually High School Principal, an exciting growth opportunity was offered to me every time I started looking. Over the last two decades, the world has come to me in one of the most diverse, innovative, and open-minded cities in the world, and I am grateful for this journey that has shaped me as an educator and an international school leader.

Mahindra International School campus

Congratulations on your new position at Mahindra International School (MIS)! What excites you about being in this new role and school? What are your hopes?

I always knew there would be another chapter following my long tenure at the French-American school in San Francisco and I am delighted that it is going to take place at the Mahindra International School. MIS is a well-established 3-program IB world school that I was immediately attracted to because of its mission and its tight-knit community. I am excited about a school that has developed its own definition of learning and is committed to measuring its impact on students, in a culture that “promotes responsibility and celebrates diversity”!

I also am excited because of this wonderful opportunity I have to expose my family, including my two young boys, to India’s rich history and fascinating mosaic of people and cultures. Our international schools have changed a lot because of the pandemic and India has been hit hard. My hope is to help MIS find its post-pandemic stride as it continues to contribute to a better world, one student at a time.


Please tell us about your education philosophy and your leadership style. What can your new community expect?

I am a whole-child education enthusiast who strongly believes in rigorous academics embedded in engaging arts, athletics, and service learning. I believe in a school culture that promotes self-confidence and instills a sense of responsibility and stewardship in students. In awe of the power of the developing brain, I have always felt a huge responsibility as an educator, to do everything in my power to stimulate our students and provide them with an engaging, relevant, and fun experience. One of my favorite pedagogues, Philippe Meirieu writes: “How can we bring out the joy of learning and thinking in our students – a galloping and contagious joy that defeats fatalism, erodes resignation, and invites the sharing of knowledge?“

My leadership style is inspired by Greenleaf’s Servant-Leadership model that puts a strong emphasis on listening, empathy, care, stewardship, and a commitment to the growth of people. I am a passionate educator and a transparent leader who genuinely cares about people. Most importantly, I am every student’s champion and I will take their side whenever possible!​


What is an interesting fact or story about you that you would like to share?

I have always loved the blues and started playing guitar in my teens. I played in several blues bands in France but it all became much more serious when I moved to the US in 1999. For the last twenty years, I have been lucky enough to play in professional blues bands and to perform regularly in small and large venues.

The highlight of my “musical career” was to be “the Frenchman” flown from San Francisco to Switzerland to play with an American blues band at the Lucerne Blues Festival in 2012! This passion for music is something that I have always been able to incorporate into my school life by creating every year a student-faculty band that performs at school functions and assemblies, which I have found to be a wonderful way to build community.

Another fun fact is that my dream career when I was growing up was to be a pilot. Because I didn’t have 20-20 vision, I had to relinquish this idea, until my wonderful wife offered me an introductory flight on a single-engine airplane a few years ago. It motivated me to take flying lessons, I eventually earned my pilot’s license and have been enjoying the Bay Area skies ever since. This has taught me that one should never give up on their dream, a lesson that I make sure all my students learn!

Pursuing his life-long passion for the skies

Joel, his wife Marion, and their two sons Morgan and Maceo

And finally, what was your experience with ISS Administrative Search like?

Working with ISS was simple and straightforward, both in terms of communication and processes. The information I received about the school in preparation for my interviews was extremely useful and actionable and I valued the advice regarding my application materials. Pauline was there with me until the very end and the moment the contract was signed; her help was invaluable in those last stages of the process.

Much appreciation to Joel for sharing these reflections, along with his journey and career in international education.  Wishing him and his family the best in their transition to India and the Mahindra International School community!  You can follow Joel on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin.

If you’re interested in pursuing a school leadership position, please check out our current leadership searches or get in touch with the ISS Administrative Search Team.