Leadership Spotlight: Michael Hibbeln

ISS Administrative Search was proud to lead the Director search for the International School of Kraków, Poland. Congratulations to Michael Hibbeln for accepting the position, beginning August 2022! He is currently the Elementary School Principal at the Shanghai American School.

Michael’s career in education has taken him to Thailand, Paraguay, the USA (Michigan), Italy, and China. He holds a Ph.D. in Education Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development from the University of Minnesota, as well as a M.Ed. in K-12 Education Administration and Leadership from Michigan State University. Michael also holds a B.S. from Georgia State University and B.A. from Michigan State University.

In this feature below, learn about Michael’s journey in international education, what guides his school leadership vision, and why he’s excited to join the ISK community.

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

After a very short stint in the automotive industry, I quickly learned that I wanted to help build humans, not cars. Working in international education and in cultures different from my own has been a natural fit for me and my family. Perhaps this stems from growing up in a culturally rich area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula influenced by Finnish heritage and traditions. However, it is probably through the experience of being an exchange student to Norway when I was 17 that inspired my love of the world and other cultures.

Michael and family

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

Personally and professionally, I’ve always been inspired by and drawn to authentic experiences, people, and communities. In every interaction I’ve had with the staff, parents, and students at the International School of Kraków, I found this strong sense of authenticity. I am most excited about the opportunity to lead a community that truly embodies its vision of “empowered together”!

With over 30 nationalities among its staff and students, ISK is a truly multicultural international school. I hope that as students experience an ISK education, they will embody the attitudes, skills, and knowledge of the school’s mission, fostering their future success and appreciation of responsibility as world citizens.​

The International School of Kraków

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

My education philosophy is grounded in the belief that everything we do in schools must center around student well-being and learning impacts. Our world is changing quickly and schools can no longer rely on pedagogies characterized by content mastery. As educators, we have to constantly ask if what we are doing is optimal. Which promising practices might we try? Who can we learn from both within the community and outside? How can we design learning experiences that are engaging and meaningful? In today’s global world, we must constantly transform, not just tweak around the edges.

My leadership style is guided by building solid, positive, trusting relationships with parents, staff and students. I believe human connection links all members of a school community and inspires us to do our best work. Innovative pedagogies and curriculum serve as a foundation for teachers and staff to positively impact students, but it is the people themselves that have the lasting impression. As a leader, I strive to make sure everyone’s voice is heard. My goal is to create environments where all people feel valued and empowered to contribute to the learning community’s development.

What is an interesting fact, story, or reflection you’d like to share?

At the end of high school, I was an exchange student in Norway for a year, living with three families in a very small fishing village along its southern coast. When I completed my exchange year, I returned to the USA and started university while another student replaced me as the “new” exchange student. Two years later, by chance I happened to meet this student who was attending the same university. That student has now been my wife of 27 years.

Together, we have traveled the world and are proud of having raised two very independent third culture kids, one of whom is starting university this fall and the other who recently graduated university and is venturing out into the world of work.

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

Pauline and the ISS team were responsive, personal, and professional. They took the time to really get to know me as a candidate and match that with what schools were looking for in their next leader.

Much appreciation to Michael for sharing his journey and hopes for the chapter ahead at ISK! Learn more about his experiences and connect on Linkedin or Twitter.

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.

Michael and wife Trillium Hibbeln