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7 Questions with Timothy Kelley

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Jonno White

7 Questions with Timothy Kelley

Name: Timothy Kelley

Current title: Director (Head of School)

Current organisation: International School of Stuttgart

Timothy Kelley, the Director of the International School of Stuttgart, an International Baccalaureate World School, has been an educator for 30 years. Formerly the Head of Ross School in East Hampton New York, Tim has also served as the Headmaster for the Leysin American School in Switzerland. He began his career at the Noble and Greenough School in Dedham Massachusetts (USA) where he was an award-winning teacher and served as Department Chair for both the History and Performing Arts departments. He subsequently became an international educator, visiting schools all over the world as both an advocate for 21st century education, an accreditation officer for the Commission on American and International Schools Abroad, and as the Director of Admissions, prior to his becoming Headmaster, in Leysin.
While at Ross School, Tim was privileged to work with some of the world’s leading educational experts including Howard Gardner and Kurt Fischer. In Switzerland, as a member of the Executive Committee for the Swiss Group of International Schools, he directed conferences and was responsible for in-depth studies of technology integration in the classroom and mother tongue proficiency. Some years ago, Tim was elected to the Board of the Association of German International Schools and currently serves as the Chair of the Board. He is also a member of the Board for the Educational Collaborative for International Schools (formerly the European Council of International Schools.) He is a member of the Academy for International School Heads and is a recipient of a Klingenstein Fellowship on Educational Leadership. Tim has been a speaker and presenter for TAISI (India), AAIE and AGIS conferences. He also frequently presents in schools throughout Europe and for the American Chamber of Commerce in Stuttgart and Atlanta GA. He is a founding member of the Stuttgart International Rotary Club and has worked with the International School of Stuttgart for nearly 12 years.

7 Questions with Timothy Kelley

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

Balancing the dreams and aspirations of families and staff with the day to day challenges of student learning and assessment. Finding communication efficiency in a changing landscape has also proven challenging when trying to focus on every individual's unique learning journey

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

Any school leader expecting a structured day is chasing a holy grail. Our job is to anticipate that which is difficult to expect. The key is to fight for moments of reflection and visibility. A day must be organized around essential operational priorities but time must be invested in simply being able to respond in personalized empathetic ways. We are in the Human Being business and that demands flexibility, organization and courage. Leaders must, however, be wary of inappropriate life balance and must find ways to model wellness as well as resilience and a daily structure that does not include mental and physical breaks will prove harmful in the long run.

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

Transparency and open collaboration mean short term challenges but long-term success. This is true of school leadership as well as teaching. Strategic buy-in simply requires involvement from the community in the creation of strategic priorities. A teacher who invests in time to connect and build a relationship not only with the student, but their parents as well, will find far less stress with educational assessments and learning.

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?

Ken Robinson's The Element and Spencer Johnson's Who Moved My Cheese? are a tie. The Element, a series of stories about successful innovators speaks to the power of teaching creativity as a new literacy. Who Moved My Cheese is a useful parable about change management and the fears of adaptation and risk taking.

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

The first step is to recognize and celebrate the notion that all teachers are leaders each and every day. Then you need to build a mid-level leadership structure that is based on distributional leadership and provides time for ALL teachers to learn and study project management and solution based thinking as key coaching elements to any great leader. Providing rotational opportunities at this level allows for a much more direct and obvious way to notice those developing leaders who succeed. Transparency in hiring and creating a culture of open pursuit of ambition allows for a supportive culture to provide excellent leaders not only in your own school, but in others as well. A great school can point to former colleagues who are leading elsewhere as well as within. It is a point of pride that develops and rewards excellence in school leadership at all levels of school.

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

Role modeling. There is no school I know of that has plenty of time to book these things in. That is the bane of schooling environments. So the key is to find ways to motivate colleagues and learners to use THEIR time effectively. The most important lesson in our current world is to disconnect. Once that step is underway, then the discussions about exercise and nutrition can follow. A good leader will model that by not calling or emailing or texting after school. Most things can wait until the work day thereafter. This needs to be a norm for ALL adults in a school, including the parents.

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

I am interested in why so few independent educational leaders in either the US or the UK become involved in the international teaching sector. There are so many similarities but key cultural differences that I think would benefit from bridges being built between these two educational worlds. I think of that when I recall arriving at Columbia University in New York for my first Klingenstein Fellowship class. One of the other school leaders in the room was actually a former student of mine when I taught US history at a leading independent school outside Boston. Our subsequent conversations about influence, history and educational culture illustrated to me how provincial both the independent and international school cultures can be. So while it was gratifying to speak to a former student who had been positively influenced by my work as a teacher, it was also an eye opener for the both of us how different learning environments can be so powerful in the way we teach and learn.