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7 Questions on Leadership with Ryan Persaud

Name: Ryan Persaud

Title: Head of School

Organisation: VERSO International School

Ryan has over twenty years of experience as a teacher, instructional coach, and leader in international schools.

He began his professional career as an ESL/EAL teacher in South Korea in 2000 before returning to Canada to obtain his teaching credentials. He stayed in Canada and joined the Halton District School Board as a classroom teacher in 2005. After 7 years in the classroom, Ryan was promoted to the role of Instructional Program Leader (K-12), where he coached and facilitated the professional development for K-12 staff on creating inquiry-based lessons and units of study with a DEIJ lens.

In 2014, he returned to South Korea to Korea International School in Seoul, as a classroom teacher before quickly being promoted to the role of Assistant Director of Teaching and Learning where he developed school wide systems, such as the Assessment Policy and the Climate and Culture Policy, and created a Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Cycle to guide professional learning and standardize curriculum review. Ryan also worked with a variety of grade level and department teams around developing transdisciplinary units of study within a project based learning framework.

In 2018, he joined the International School of Curitiba in Brazil as Director of IT and Innovation. There, he worked with a team to establish the school’s first Design and Innovation Center, a new Student Information System, a new Learning Management System, and a new Admissions System. He also developed his team's expertise in Stanford's Design Thinking Framework, which led to professional learning and implementation across a variety of departments. In 2020-2021, Ryan was hired by the school's board to take on an additional role as interim Head of School. In this role, he led the school community through the pandemic, made key decisions in the areas of health and safety and hybrid and online learning, and facilitated the development of the school's strategic plan for 2022-2027.

In August 2023, Ryan joined VERSO International School as the new Head of School. This year the school continues on its unique journey as the only school in the world whose origin story involves IDEO. This has influenced the design thinking and project based learning approach of VERSO. Some of the big work this year includes preparing for an accreditation visit, developing the school’s first school wide action plan, and developing and growing the brand.

Ryan completed his education in Ontario, Canada. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration from Wilfrid Laurier University, a Bachelors of Education and a Master's degree in Education from the University of Toronto, and is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Educational Leadership degree from the University of Western Ontario.

Ryan’s vision as a leader in education is to collaboratively create school communities where all belong, are heard, and have opportunities to blossom. It is imperative that schools allow all learners to discover who they are as innovative global citizens who embrace and learn from diversity, so they can contribute to their community and the world.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Ryan's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Having recently ascended into a new role as Head of School at VERSO International School I would easily say that the most paramount challenge to this new role is being pulled in a multitude of directions on a daily basis. While many of us have our days meticulously planned out in our calendars, it is managing the daily spontaneous interruptions, perceived emergencies, and the “hey, got 5”. This is where having a plan for your day, such as what you must accomplish by the time you leave, ideally set the day before, can help tremendously. Furthermore, having a good synergy with your EA, who helps you to manage your schedule, and politely screen all those “hey, got 5” individuals that pop by, will go a long way. We all know emergencies will happen, but it's imperative to earmark daily commitments that are non-compromisable.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Throughout my high school years, I consistently occupied leadership roles in various clubs, events, and organizations. Naturally, I gravitated towards guiding and leading peers. But one particular experience stands out when reflecting on my leadership journey in the realm of education. At the time, I served as a secondary school teacher for the Halton District School Board in Ontario. My aspirations led me towards a role at the district office, particularly within the safe and inclusive schools team. This team was at the forefront of anti-oppression and DEIJ initiatives across the district. Over several academic years, I pursued numerous opportunities to join this team. Despite facing two rejections, I remained resilient and persistent. Ultimately, securing a role on the team was not just about patience but also about adapting and growing. Each setback offered valuable feedback, and I harnessed it to further develop my leadership

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

Success, for me, hinges on maintaining a disciplined routine. It anchors my focus and propels me towards my objectives. My day typically commences at 4:00am, which is dedicated to progressing my doctorate studies, allowing a concentrated 90-minute session each weekday. Following this, I allocate roughly 15 minutes to skim through emails, ensuring there aren't any urgent matters requiring immediate attention. By 6:30am, we're en route to school, accounting for Bangkok's notorious traffic. As I alluded to, I structure my day around a meticulous calendar. Despite this, I prioritize greeting students every morning, making rounds to classrooms, ensuring I take my lunch break (a must for all leaders!), and also reserving slots for unexpected tasks. Weekly, I block out periods explicitly for work, a strategy I adopted from a mentor's advice. Post school, my routine involves a weight training session, followed by a family dinner and another work session of 90 minutes. By 9pm, you'll usually find me engrossed in a book, winding down for the night.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

A recurring lesson that resonates with me, and one I believe is crucial for all leaders, is the indispensable value of relationships. As I stepped into my role at VERSO as the new Head of School, I recognized the importance of forging meaningful connections and establishing trust. This wasn't just pertinent with my leadership team, but with the broader community as well. Naturally, such connections require time and intentionality. As I write this piece, we're wrapping up our first quarter at VERSO. The environment still feels fresh, and my journey of learning and relationship-building continues as I navigate this new phase. Yet, I recognize that to advance initiatives holistically, it's authentic relationships that will pave the way.

5. 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?

I'm an avid reader of Patrick Lencioni's works, with "The Motive" standing out notably. In it, Lencioni delineates the primary reasons people gravitate towards leadership roles. They either seek to genuinely serve others, committing fully to the betterment of their team, or they're driven by personal gains – an unfortunately frequent and flawed motive. He categorizes these as "responsibility-centered leadership" and "reward-centered leadership."

Lencioni further identifies five pivotal domains that responsibility-centered leaders should prioritize. This book serves as a consistent reminder of my leadership purpose, emphasizing that leadership isn't meant to be a breeze. While there are undoubtedly moments of fulfillment in leadership, it's inherently filled with challenges and growth avenues. Shying away from these challenges leans one more towards the reward-centered leadership spectrum. This is a great read to ground you as a leader.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Patience is a virtue, especially in leadership. Before rushing into the next challenge, it's essential to thoroughly grasp your present role. I've noticed a trend among emerging leaders, an eagerness to leap into the next big position without fully comprehending their current responsibilities. It's vital to immerse oneself in the present, soliciting feedback, and, more importantly, implementing it. This iterative process of learning and adapting is the cornerstone of honing leadership acumen.

Moreover, when considering a new position, it's crucial to look beyond the allure of the title. What truly matters is the alignment of the role with your skills, passion, and vision. A position that truly complements your strengths and values not only ensures your sustainability in that role but also fuels your zeal to lead the organization to greater heights. A well suited role will invigorate your passion, enabling you to propel the institution forward with conviction and dedication.

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

I'd like to recount a recent episode from August 2023 during our induction process at VERSO. A primary vision I introduced at VERSO this year was the "One VERSO" philosophy. It encapsulates the idea that we are a singular school and community and should function in unity. During my preliminary site visit before officially starting, I discerned distinct compartmentalizations between various divisions and the operations team. To address this, our induction was meticulously crafted with activities and engagements aimed at embedding the "One VERSO" ethos and dismantling these existing partitions. The goal was to organically nurture inter-divisional relationships and collaborations with the operations team.

Our induction culminated in a social gathering. The highlight of this event was when the head of facilities expressed his gratitude, acknowledging the clarity the "One VERSO" concept brought him. This served as a promising preamble to our community-building journey. While we have multiple engagements lined up throughout the year to encourage inter-divisional collaborations, including those involving the operations, it's essential to understand that reinvigorating a community's spirit is a gradual process that demands consistent effort and focus.

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