How to make a two-year international contract work

Short-term contracts can make international staffrooms feel transitional but, according to one headteacher, it doesn’t have to be the case

Liz Cloke

The two-year international contract cycle

It’s only the first term but schools are already planning for the next academic year.

Right now, your vision has been made clear for the year ahead, staffing is stable and the team is on board and aligned with new initiatives.

But at the back of your mind, there is a feeling of unrest as the deadline for expat staff contract negotiation approaches.

Despite previous conversations with colleagues, you know that expat teachers come and go, some sooner, some later, and the whole recruitment process starts again.

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The two-year turnover  

Teaching in many international schools will require you work an eight-month notice period.  

By the time you’ve got your first year at your new school under your belt, it is time to start considering whether to stay or go,  even though you are only 66 per cent into your two-year contact.

On the international school circuit, leaders understand that many teachers are not there for a lifetime career but for an experience, and although lots do settle abroad, many don’t.    

For some, it is an easy decision. If teachers have done their research before the move and are happy with their situation, thoughts of uprooting – often without a confirmed post – can wait.

But for many, whether they’re only a year in or longer, the question creates anxiety. 

Transparency is key

On completion of a two-year contract, most international teachers will have flights home paid for and relocation costs covered. In some regions, a bonus is received.

Contract renewals often bring bonus incentives and relocation allowances increase.

There is a lot on the table, but international schools should encourage teachers to be open about considering their next move. This allows the school to evaluate staffing and the curriculum needs for the following academic year.

However, school leaders need to reciprocate that honesty. Have open conversations about career progression and plans for the coming year.  

When retention is high, leaders save recruitment costs, training and time, meaning the school community benefits.

For the short-term contract cycle to work, schools must get the recruitment, culture and staff wellbeing right.

The perks of new staff

Churn can bring plenty of benefits, too, however.

Recruiting new teachers means new skills and ideas, which can benefit students and staff.  The contract may be only for two years, but the right personality and mindset can have a huge positive impact on the whole community.

Four ways to work well with international teachers:

1. Get the recruitment right

It is a mutual benefit to recruit and retain the right teachers for your school. Different areas in the world appeal to different teachers and their families.

Teachers choose destinations for a variety of reasons. As a leader you need to get your interview process right to seek out the best fit for your community.

2. Provide CPD opportunities

Professional development should be at the forefront of any school. Good teachers are lifelong learners and although there are free CPD opportunities conveniently at your fingertips, schools should provide a budget for courses, flights and hotel costs to invest in their teachers.

3. Create a positive culture 

Creating and maintaining a positive culture includes having a shared vision. Aligned policies and processes bring trust, transparency and clarity. Teachers should feel valued, supported and provided with career opportunities.

Leaders should be role models and communication lines should be open and clear. The school needs to be supported by a positive parent body, and students should be hard-working, caring and respectful as a result of the adult role models they are exposed to. In such schools, the atmosphere feels welcoming and those in it are genuinely happy.

4. Prioritise staff wellbeing

International teaching can be lonely. Friendships strengthen a community and teachers are more likely stay if they have a supportive network.

Consider whether opportunities are provided for socialising outside of school. Not everyone will participate but some will join in the social badminton on a Friday after school or appreciate a meet-up at a local pub.

Provide a staff voice or a wellbeing committee to for an opportunity to feed back and contribute to continuous school improvement.

Liz Cloke is head of secondary at Tenby International School in Malaysia. She tweets at @misscloke

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Liz Cloke

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