Gráinne, what should I do? #4


Leading Your International School today shares our weekly Q & A for international school leaders and teachers. Questions are answered by Gráinne O’ Reilly – founder of 13 schools around the world. Today we share Jessica’s question. 

Jessica: Dear Gráinne. You’ve been involved in the founding of so many schools around the world. What is it about school startups that is so appealing to you?

Gráinne: My Dear Colleague,

Thank you for your question. Answering it will be an absolute pleasure – and pretty much short and sweet!

Out of the questions for this week I narrowed them down to yours, and one from a new Principal who is dealing with some toxic staff and hoping to get a handle on dealing with them in a practical and positive way. I needed another few days of cogitation before answering him so I took the liberty of responding to you straight away, in one sitting!

Start-up is not for everyone. There is no value judgement there – it’s simply a practical truth. Undertaking a start-up as a Principal will give you nowhere to hide; your mistakes will be obvious to all and may even be costly. Very often, even those who have appointed you to undertake the start-up have not really understood the remit fully, or perhaps not communicated the outcomes that they are expecting from you.

A start-up Principal will often find her or himself having to make decisions on matters that they may have never previously experienced. Not only make decisions, but make them quickly! There is never enough time in any start up, even if one has a whole year’s run up. Everyone, from architects and tradespeople, to contractors, to vendors, to licensing boards, to marketing staff, to teachers and administration, to prospective parents, to Embassies, to Chambers of Commerce, to journalists and local dignitaries will want to know what you think, what you believe, how you are going to lead and be successful and why you should be trusted! This can all be utterly overwhelming and many Principals in the midst of all this have asked me ( and themselves) why they ever got involved in such a huge, endless, terrifying task.

For me, the answer is very simple. It is the chance to get something really important and meaningful right. Right from the very beginning. Right for each brick that builds the school, for each staff member who brings the school to life, for each curriculum decision that enriches our students’ lives and prospects, for each policy that beds down and supports our vision, for each student who walks through our doors and for each family who has put the ultimate trust in us.

There is nothing quite like building a school from scratch; starting something that is filled with hope, enthusiasm, positivity, determination and sheer hard work. Creating something that is built upon the very best outcomes, the very best of teams, the belief in something that will continue to positively influence the lives of students and their families for years to come- possibly even for generations to come.

It is a feeling like no other. Building a community is a privilege. A rare privilege. I look back at all the start-ups I have been involved in ( not all successful!) and I count myself as having been extraordinarily fortunate. A failure at times, foolish at times, exhausted most of the time, but constantly learning, developing, reflecting, rethinking and reshaping my views, my philosophy and my practice. If one can look back at a career and see all of that- it has been a gift.

Good luck to all of you who are involved in start-ups at the moment ( you can do it!), to all who are new in their positions this year and indeed, to all who make up the multi-faceted world of education and learning. Have a great year!

Thank you for reading, if you have any questions for Gráinne to answer about Leading Your International School, email them to:  

One thought on “Gráinne, what should I do? #4

  1. Hello Grâinne, I also subscribed to your Q&A on LinkedIn, thank you so much for sharing! And I really enjoyed reading them! How lovely and lucky for us to have the chance to ask the questions and receive great answers from you! Meanwhile, I am keen to hear more about Toxic staff!!! Looking forward to seeing your new updates!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *