Reflections on Educational Leadership

December 24, 2023 / 8 min. read

Merry Christmas to everyone reading this on Christmas Eve. I wanted to share a few thoughts on leadership as we move collectively into the New Year, with cultures, missions, and visions reset after the festive season and celebrations.


Are You Coaching or Managing?

While watching former Manchester United player Gary Neville’s podcast with his former captain Roy Keane, there was a moment when they were being filmed strolling in a Manchester park. Roy’s reflections on his leadership style were an essential differentiation between coaching and leading. He stated that he preferred to “step back” from the micro and focus on the more significant macro issues, opting for “hands-off” mentoring of employees. In comparison, other coaches and support staff were clearly defined and responsible for zooming in on the more minor technical issues of the players.

As education leaders, it’s essential to define if they are coaches or leaders. Where does your passion lead you? Do you prefer the day-to-day, in-the-weeds style of coaching and designing educational experiences and content, or do you prefer the bigger picture of management? I remember from my six years of leading THINK Global School that, although I loved the day-to-day micro designing, the realities of the educational day often meant it was impossible not to be in the Macro. For TGS, it was VISA issues, financial budgeting, hiring, and big-picture vision and purpose. Often, my desire to be pulled into the micro designing was hard to resist, and I was often able to partake in parts, but in truth, we had better “coaches,” and that was their role in the predetermined allocation as agreed as we started our own “pre-season” before student arrivals. It would have been grossly unfair and confusing to insert myself into such microelements; however, when I did, it was clearly defined as a “teammate,” not a senior leader. That was the role of our curriculum designers and lead educators.

As you return to your own “project” in January, can you define where you are as a manager, coach, and mentor with greater clarity? This percentage breakdown of the situation is often crucial for your team’s clarity and organisation.


“Do you prefer the day-to-day, in-the-weeds style of coaching and designing educational experiences and content, or do you prefer the bigger picture of management?”


Managing Transitions

I always would say to my teammates and, more importantly, learners that our success was often rooted in our management of transitions. At THINK Global School, we had three considerable transition periods over a project period. This was “the launch,” an accumulation of core knowledge, engagement with the driving question, and listening (key!) to the guest speakers and educator team. Second was the design and prototyping of ideas towards the solution initiated by the driving question, embracing failure along the way, and finally, the prep and delivery of the public showcase and the exit interview with the educator team guiding the module/project.

Again, using football as an analogy, tactical periodization is a football training methodology developed roughly 36 years ago by Vítor Frade, a sports science professor from Porto University in Portugal and a huge inspiration to the likes of the legendary Jose Mourinho. The methodology is derived from the study of different sciences and inter-disciplines that apply to football, including neuroscience, theory of complexity, chaos theory, systems theory, psychology, fractal geometry, and sociology. In all these aspects considered, the game of Football is viewed from a holistic perspective, maintaining its complex identity (Oliveira G. in Farias, 2016).

When it comes to breaking down the methodology, tactical periodization is critical. The team achieves this high level of organisation in the game due to pre-determined behaviours that coaches want their players or learners to adopt at each moment of the game, the module or the project and in different situations.


In managing a travelling boarding school, it was not just getting the module right; it was also helping learners achieve a mentality where, in a particular moment, faced with a specific situation, the majority of the learners think in a similar way to achieve a goal of excellence, rigour, and togetherness. Of course, diverse thinking about academics and personal philosophy is positive and encouraged. However, when faced with a dangerous travel situation or a common goal of encouraging community spirit and teamwork, i.e., being against bullying, thinking in a “similar way” clearly benefits the community.

Using the football analogy, we can move the football transitions to education.

The Football Game Model was where the idea of the four moments of the game came from, and we can turn this into an educational context:

  • Offensive Organisation > Diving into modules and projects with confidence.
  • Defensive Transition > In times of crisis or hardship, taking a tactical step back as a team to regroup and re-establish culture, organisation, and boundaries.
  • Defensive Organisation > Organising or re-organising critical pillars of your community, mentors, shadowing, and learning essential parts of the curriculum model.
  • Attacking Transition > Moving from settling into a country/school, aligning with core values to growing into the community and mission. To become more “aggressive” towards the work and what’s possible (reaching for the stars).

Within each moment of the game, leaders in an educational context should have a fundamental principle of leadership understood by the team of educators, an objective to be pursued by the team, and a few detailed sub-principles to support the core principle.


Mastering the Dance

Finally, we needed to master the dance. This was to get all the curriculum components “dancing with each other” working together. For example, our teacher-led module pillar needed to work with and in synchrony with the personal projects, our wellness program, our Capstone program, and our Service Learning component. The more siloed these elements were, the weaker and more disorganized our holistic togetherness and principles were, and the further we were away from an elite team of leaders and educators.

If elements of the curriculum design began to get siloed or fractured, we would seek to regroup ASAP and retain our structure as quickly as possible, which was incredibly important in maintaining high standards.


The more siloed these elements were, the weaker and more disorganized our holistic togetherness and principles were, and the further we were away from an elite team of leaders and educators.


In conclusion, I feel that these three elements of coaching or management, transitional understanding, and mastering the dance of the curriculum model were essential in my success of leading part of the THINK Global School model for over half a decade in countries well into double digits. Knowing when to slow the term tempo down and when to push the learners towards excellence was also crucial. Clearly defining the zones of the curriculum and establishing a method of synchronization of these zones always led to incredible results for the learners. Finally, what was key was the tremendous understanding of each other across the community and creating the community chemistry needed for harmonious relationships to flourish across the school team.



Spielverlagerung. (2020, May 23). Understanding the Tactical Periodization Methodology. Retrieved from


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