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7 Questions with Dr. Chrissie Sorenson

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Jonno White

7 Questions with Dr. Chrissie Sorenson

Name: Dr. Chrissie Sorenson

Current title: Head of School / Exec. Board

Current organisation: Bavarian International School gAG

Dr. Chrissie Sorenson is the Head of School (since 2014) and Executive Board (since 2017) of the Bavarian International School (BIS). The school, with campuses in Haimhausen (District of Dachau) as well as Munich-Schwabing, has 1,150 students from 61 nations.
The product of an international family herself, Dr. Sorenson (German/American) has an accomplished career in education. She founded the International School of Monterey, in California and headed the Dresden International School in Germany. In an honorary capacity, she is President of the Academy for International School Heads (AISH) and Board Member of the Rotary Club of Munich-Königsplatz.
A committed and passionate swimmer, Dr. Sorenson is also the coach of the BIS Lions Swim Team. She is a mother of three, speaks German fluently, and lives by the motto, "Where there is a will, there is a way!”

7 Questions with Dr. Chrissie Sorenson

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader in the education sector?

Having had experience in leadership in the business sector as well, and with an MBA as well as my EdD, I feel well-placed to comment.
As a leader in the education sector, I feel most challenged by the opinion of most people, especially those in leadership positions in their industries themselves, that they have expertise on how to run a school or curricular programming equal to or surpassing my own. In my 20 years experience as a Head of School, I am still questioned on items ranging from quality teaching to budgeting, from appraisal to fundraising. However, I approach this as an additional opportunity to engage community members to contribute to our school in their areas of expertise and thus open ourselves to creative and innovative solutions, strengthen our community and create a culture of life-long learning.

2. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I start my days with some sort of sport - yoga, swimming, HIIT. By doing so, I start most days with a positive mindset, energized and ready to face the challenges, known and unknown, the day will provide. I schedule a daily 30-minute lunch break (at least), so I can recharge in the middle of the day. I try to leave work at school at the end of the day, whether that be at 5:30 pm or later, with the pandemic bringing the greatest challenges to this aspect. I do not check messages during meals with my family. I check email for any urgent issues one last time before going to bed, and am able to leave most for the next morning.

3. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

"Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace."
Dalai Lama
Especially during the pandemic, where so much more of what schools are doing is under a microscope, it is important to listen in order to understand and communicate transparently.
"Do not get upset with people or situations, both are powerless without your reaction."

4. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

There are too many to list, however the first one to come to mind is "The Happiness Advantage" by Shawn Achor, taking heavily from positive psychology.
This book has had a deep impact on my leadership by helping me to concentrate on the importance of perspective, i.e. helping others to invest their energy in creative solutions rather than wasting time on drama.

5. How do you find and keep great leaders in the education sector?

In addition to growing leaders from within, it is important to have the reputation of supporting leaders (new and new to the school). The concept of "failing forward" is ubiquitous throughout our school. The Nelson Mandela quote "I never lose. I either win or learn." springs to mind.

6. What's most important as a leader in the education sector for developing a culture of wellbeing in your staff and students?

We must all agree on the equal importance of wellbeing to our purpose of teaching and learning. I believe that modeling the importance I place on wellbeing and making clear decisions on the basis of others' wellbeing are critical to nurturing such a culture.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader in the education sector so far?

At a previous school, I was hired by a 6:1 vote of the Board. It was the Board Chair who was not in favor of my appointment (and she did not make this a secret). Staff morale was horrible as evidenced by a pre-accreditation visit survey, and throughout my first Board meeting, every item I reported or commented upon, the Chair responded with 'no' or otherwise shot me down. My reaction was described by one member present as equal to one of those inflatable Bozo 3-D Bop Bags, where when you punch it, it pops back up.
In short, I countered the negative response with positivity and proceeded to pull the Chair in closer, with weekly meetings. I was able to build trust and respect. By the end of my first year, the Chair stood up at the last Board meeting of the year and said, "I know I was the only one who thought hiring Chrissie was a mistake. I was wrong. I am glad I listened to my Board colleagues and agree that she was the right choice for our school." The leadership lesson for me is it always comes down to relationships and trust.