international schools

Finding a good school for your children as an expat is daunting – don’t underestimate the role school administrators play.

As expat parents we want and expect an international school to give our children a quality education, excellent sports programs, fabulous teachers, a school administration that listens and responds to parent needs, and a positive social network for children and parents. The bottom line is, we want our kids to be “happy” and we believe those components in a school will help achieve that.

It comes down to the fact that fees for international schools cost more than most four year colleges. Naturally, parents believe their expectations should be met at this price. At Live and Learn we are regularly approached by parents asking what makes a good international school or how they should decide which school is best for their child.

As I began to think about my various experiences in different international schools as both a parent and professional, I discovered a key element that seems to tie all these expectations together. We need teachers who are truly motivated by really great administrators. Any administrator can dictate what curriculum needs to be taught. They can give teachers the books, workbooks and kits to follow. The truth is we want our teachers to be creative and excited about teaching. We want them to WANT to teach our diverse children according to their individual needs. School administrators who know how to motivate and help teachers create this classroom environment do so because they know good teachers can change how our children view the world.

Happy, supported teachers equal happy, supported kids

If teachers aren’t excited, motivated and supported with what they teach then why would our children be excited about learning it? Our international school teachers are open to working with children who come from diverse backgrounds, know multiple languages, and have varied learning styles, but it isn’t easy to teach to all these differences often while settling in a new country themselves. They require support, resources and inspriation from a mentor, coach and leader. Without such a powerful force in every teacher’s life, the daunting task of reaching each learner, skill building to their needs and exciting them about learning will be impossible. Teaching in international schools can be difficult. The help of motivating administrators and using a team approach within each grade level will help alleviate these feelings and can spark that creativity. Happy, supported teachers will equal happy, supported kids!

Speaking from experience, I had the honor of working with just this type of administrator. Kathy Duncan taught me that not only do most teachers love what they do, they want to learn more about how to do it better and it was a principal’s responsibility to help them achieve that! Kathy always organized book clubs and sharing sessions for the teachers to talk about their ideas and share new and exciting ways to teach ALL children. The teachers were always so motivated by her staff meetings that it changed the school drastically when she left. A good administrator is a key component to education and will effect whether our teachers and students are able to soar high.

What is the “take home message” to parents here? Choosing an international school can be overwhelming and daunting. A piece of advice is to interview the principal to understand the kind of leader they are. Ask them what kinds of programs and initiatives they have put in place to keep staff morale high, motivation soaring and inspiration flying! A good answer could very well yield a great schooling option for your child.

For more information on keeping your family healthy and happy abroad visit


Alicia Mirabelli is a US-certified Clinical Social Worker, and has been living internationally since 2008. She found being an expat wife was wonderful but she felt compelled by her training and background to help others.  In 2010, Alicia began her work with Live and Learn, an educational consultancy firm based in Singapore.  Alicia is currently working as a Consultant, Program Supervisor, Diagnostician, and Case Manager while raising her two elementary aged children in International Schools.  She works within the local and international school systems in Singapore and assists families with difficult decisions about their child’s schooling abroad.

To learn more about Alicia and Live and Learn, please visit