TLP: Dr. Harlan Lyso
“Give your people responsibility, mentor them…and oversee their work so you can see that they’ve been successful.”
This simple philosophy has shaped the careers and education of countless students, faculty and staff at the schools where Dr. Harlan Lyso has worked. It’s this uncomplicated and principle-based leadership style that has guided Dr. Lyso through nearly 40 years of international ED experience throughout the world. Most notably, Dr. Lyso oversaw Seoul Foreign School as Head of School for 16 years as well as principal for the four years prior. In 2008 he was award International Superintendent of the Year by AAIE, the Association for the Advancement of International Education.
Now partially retired Dr. Lyso consults for ISS and represents EARCOS on the WASC Commission, which allows him to keep his hands in the part of the world where he raised his family and built a career. He was kind enough to meet with me and discuss his observations on international education, qualities of effective leadership and the challenges that lay ahead for the industry.
What changes have you noticed in international education over the last 10 years? For teachers and administrators?
Overall “parental expectations” have changed drastically over the last decade. Just a few years ago parents moving abroad were satisfied if an international school even existed, but now the expectation is that the school will be at least as good as the one they left and should be better.
In addition to higher expectations, the greatest change has come simply from the explosion of schools. It’s believed that there are currently 5000 international schools worldwide and this will grow to over 9000 in the near future. Much of this growth has come from the creation of for-profit schools as well as schools moving away from a student model that limits admission to only expats.
For schools this means that many of the differentiation strategies promoted by consultants like Bill and Ochan Powell are extremely relevant because school populations are becoming less homogenous.
International Education is quickly expanding, this is no more evident that in China and Korea, is this a good or bad thing for the industry?
It’s really a “mixed-bag” of positives and negatives and provides some distinct challenges for all parties. For schools there will be staffing difficulties because “all of the schools are looking for the same high quality teachers as before, but there hasn’t been a large enough increased in [viable candidates].”
For parents and students there will be problems with “quality assurance.” Many schools may appear or claim to be providing a high quality education while not meeting the high accreditation standards that parents should expect. As an example “there are around 120 members school in EARCOS, but there are probably over 500 ‘international schools’ in the region…and parents are sending there kids to these schools with no idea whether their kids are getting a good education.”
During your time at Seoul Foreign School the school grew in size and reputation, what was the key ingredient to this transformation?
SFS celebrated its centennial this year and was originally created as a missionary school. Although it still holds to its Christian-ethos its need to serve the missionary community declined (mostly because of the success of the missionaries). About 20 years ago pressure mounted to transform the school into a high-end international school. At that time the school already had a high quality program, but greatly needed an upgrade to the facilities. So instead of changing the program we started building and adding to the campus. For some “perception is reality.”
What’s your greatest priority when choosing administrators and teachers at your school? How important is leadership ability?
It’s hard to identify just one quality, but generally, “I look for people with a lot of energy and personality, that through relationships can move people forward.” I don’t especially need a scholar and certainly don’t want people just like me, but instead a person who can supplement our team’s current skill set.
Leadership ability is important, but it really depends on their role. “When I bring somebody in I want him or her to have instant credibility, and I want the community to be looking forward to their coming…I want somebody who is going to involve people as opposed to direct people.”
How much freedom did you give your admin in recruitment fairs? Did you require the final say?
“No. Not if you have the senior level administrative team that you’d like to have.” SFS only sent one person to each fair, and we covered lots of fairs. “I knew that as school head that the idea of my knowing each candidate deeply was ludicrous.” Of course people had the authority to hire for their own division, and then would work with other division leaders to find or suggest the right people. I had great confidence in my team to find the right people.
Which administrators do you believe are great at developing talented leaders around the world?
It’s difficult to identify because if you look at where the new heads are coming from, you don’t see just a handful of great developers. Instead, “they’re coming from all over.” However, I think leaders who are talented at developing others share a common philosophy, to give people responsibility and mentor them. Certainly that’s what I tried to do.
Are there schools or administrators that inspired you and helped you focus your goals at the schools you worked at?
Most inspiration resides in ones own personal and professional development. Every year at Seoul Foreign I got a significant professional development package, which allowed me to gather tools and knowledge to experiment with the direction of the school. As we tested out a direction I would spend time learning skills that would help support the natural flow of the school’s development and as needed received the development needed to successfully lead the school that direction. For example as our school looked closely at building a strategic plan I went off for a week to learn from other experts about how to do this.
What’s your advice for the next generation of international administrators and teachers?
“Finding time for reflection is critical. Often we get so busy that we don’t spend time reflecting like we might…and we always tell the kids to reflect on their learning and that’s no less true for administrators.”
Many principals at really good schools want to move into headships at good schools and that rarely happens. Instead people need to be willing consider headships at less established schools.