Advice for students aspiring to leadership
Advice for students aspiring to leadership
Advice for students aspiring to leadership

We’re delighted to celebrate International Women’s Day by sharing advice from women leaders across our global community for students in our schools and universities aspiring to leadership roles in their future careers. 

'There are many ways to shape the future of international education. It is a growing, broad, and deep movement, led by people from diverse backgrounds with varied skill sets as they do their part. Hear today from women who are making an impact across the CIS international education community and imagine the possibilities for yourself.'
Jane Larsson, Executive Director, CIS



Lucy Ayodo

Lucy Ayodo, Principal, International Community School, Ghana

Believe in yourself because there is more in you than you can ever imagine. Do not let the world define who you are. Challenges will come but use them as stepping stones to soar to greater heights. As you move up the ladder, extend a helping hand to others and never dim anyone’s light. There is enough light at the end of the tunnel for all of us. As others light your path, do what is ethically right to light the path of others. The end is sweeter when the whole team is successful. Let your success story be the reason behind someone else’s success story.


Vanita Uppal

Vanita Uppal, OBE, Director, The British School New Delhi, India

To all the young girls who aspire to become leaders in the future, I want to say—believe in yourself. You will meet many who will doubt your abilities; don’t be one of them! Learn to prioritise your aspirations, your passion and most of all—yourself, because if you don’t, no one else will. Always remember, respect is nonnegotiable and there is no substitute for hard work. Let your talent shine through your work. And lastly, you don’t need to carry a feminist flag; if you want to be seen and treated as an equal, act like one!


Kim Green

Kim Green, Head of School, International School Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Dream big. Be open to opportunities. Have the courage to believe you can humbly inspire others. With empathy and kindness challenge the assumptions of those around you. Translate big ideas into concrete actions and results. Lean into your vulnerability as this will enable you to truly learn, unlearn and relearn, positioning you as an agile and adaptive leader. Believe in yourself, your talents, your innate ability, and your strengths. Have the courage to take a risk and step outside what is comfortable.


Esther Chan

Esther Chan, Deputy Chief Executive Officer (K-12 Education) at Yew Chung Education Foundation, Hong Kong

Always remain true to your values and use them as leadership superpowers. There will be moments when your values may be tested or questioned, but always trust your beliefs and let go of the rest. When you grow older, you should be able to look back and say, ‘I made decisions that best aligned with my beliefs and values,’ and feel happy knowing that you have stayed true to them and, in so doing, have contributed to the betterment of society.


Marta Medved

Marta Medved Krajnovic, Head of School, Western Academy of Beijing, China

If you feel that you would like to make a difference on a local or global scale, if you think you are a good listener that can empathize with people around you—do not hesitate to engage and act. Leadership comes in many forms and shapes, and good leadership always brings more good. Leadership can only partly be taught; leadership means action—it is highly contextualised, human, and humane endeavour, full of learning, erring, and re-learning. It's exciting. Do not hesitate and think you do not have it in you—many women have made that mistake—just try.


Jacqueline Vogl

Jacqueline Vogl, Associate Vice President, Global Education, SUNY Plattsburgh, USA & CIS Board member

In my opening remarks to our newest international students at SUNY Plattsburgh this semester, I stressed the importance of three things:

  1. Integrity—Do the right thing even when it isn't easy or comfortable, and possibly even professionally dangerous.
  2. Boldness—In the words of Pliny the Elder in the first century, “Fortune favors the bold!” Don't be afraid to take well-considered risks. I've learned the most about doing my job well from my mistakes.
  3. Resilience & Resolve—At those times when the odds seem stacked against you and you want to give up, it's okay to be disappointed or afraid. It's how you recover and resolve to change the outcome that will move your forward.

My other insight that isn't politically correct or welcome is that powerful, intelligent, and experienced women leaders must develop advanced diplomacy skills to make progress in a male-dominated environment. I don't believe that this circumstance will change in my lifetime, but it will change as women continue to rise to the highest levels of leadership in all domains.


Maya Nelson, Head of School, Jakarta Intercultural School, Indonesia

Becoming a woman in leadership is no easy feat, so it is essential to dream big and pursue your passions. Navigate your career with the notion that there is nothing you can't achieve (as that is true!), and do not be afraid to take risks. Aspiring to such a role will undoubtedly provide challenges, so persist in pursuing your dreams. Find a mentor you respect and admire and learn from them. In the same vein, help people along your way—as it always comes back to you. 


Hana Kanan

Hana Kanan, EdD, Director of the International Academy—Amman, Jordan

Being a female leader in a position of influence automatically means you are serving as a role model capable of demonstrating strength with kindness and grace. To retain such power, you must strengthen your leadership muscle by constantly being driven, ambitious, professional, persistent, influential, and tenacious. Confidence and believing in yourself are the key elements to guarantee your place in such a valuable position.

Similarly, having a fond understanding of your true worth and what you're capable of in any work environment shall pave the way for you to never be in a weak position where you must compromise simply because you're a female; fight for your rights adamantly and don't settle for less. Move confidently towards your dreams and never think you have hit the glass ceiling in your career, for ambition knows no limits as long as you know how to tackle your life-work balance efficiently while also giving yourself the chance to fully indulge in every experience of your journey. Always have an appetite for further progress and devour all the opportunities you're served!


Chantal Algharabally

Chantal Al Gharabally, Director, Kuwait National English School, Kuwait

I advise you to feel strongly about yourself and be confident in your competency skills. Choose carefully the goal, objective, or career you want to achieve and do not deviate from it; stick to it. Always be responsible and reliable, show resilience and be resourceful, and if you believe you can climb the ladder, do it and demonstrate you can be remarkable in your achievements. If you choose the field of education, you will find it difficult but extremely rewarding; go for it!


Michelle Remington

Michelle Remington, The KAUST School, Saudi Arabia

Take advantage of every opportunity afforded you as a young person. If there's a team, join it. If there's a club, join it. Don't overcommit, but make sure to engage in a variety of activities. Getting perfect grades won't make you a leader. Doing your best in your academic courses (you don't have to be perfect) while also playing a sport, getting involved in the arts, or committing to a service organization is how to develop leadership skills.

These activities require you to work with different people, and this involvement helps you understand the importance of committing to a cause or team beyond yourself and how to effectively work with others. It takes patience. Be academically prepared by focusing on your schoolwork and socially prepared by engaging in various activities, and the opportunities will come to you. You just need to have the mindset to say, "yes, I'll give it a try!" when leadership opportunities present themselves. 


Anabella Martinez

Anabella Martinez Director, Colegio Marymount Barranquilla, Colombia & CIS Board member

Go the extra mile in your learning. In whatever educational process or stage you are in, commit to always wanting to learn and know more about topics you are passionate about. In my experience, education is not something that happens to you; you make it happen. Therefore, you need to engage fully in the learning experiences afforded to you. Don't view them as extra work; going beyond your comfort zone and stretching your limits is the work of leaders.


CIS staff photo of Cécile Doyen

Cécile Doyen, CIS Head of Professional Learning & Development, The Netherlands

We are not leaders alone and in a vacuum void of context. I would tell any young person developing their approach to leadership that they're not expected to be some lone and self-reliant figure at the top. Meaningful work is best accomplished together. Show up authentically for you are enough.  Build relationships that are supportive of shared endeavours. Improve what needs to be genuinely improved for the wider good over time. You are a force in your community; you are enough because you will derive strength from and drive strength through the relationships you build along the way.


CIS staff photo of Olivia Roth

Olivia Roth, CIS Director of School Evaluation & Development Services, Switzerland

I didn’t always want to be a leader. I was quiet. And introverted. I thought leaders had the loudest voices. They took up space at boardroom tables. But I did want to make a difference. So, I followed my passion. And leadership followed naturally. So what does a leader look like to you? Is she Malala Yousafzai, shot for speaking up for girls’ rights to be educated? Is she Marissa Mayer at Yahoo! worth $300 million at the age of 37? Is she your friend, or your mum? A teacher or an idol? Or is she you?



‘Research has found that self-efficacy correlates with academic performance (Ferla, Valcke, & Cai, 2009; Luszczynska, Guitiérrez-Doña, & Schwarzer, 2005; Richardson, Abraham, & Bond, 2012; Zimmerman, Bandura, & Martinez-Pons, 1992), demonstrating that students who are high in academic self-efficacy participate more readily, work harder, persist longer when they encounter difficulties, and achieve at a higher academic performance level (Schunk & Pajares, 2002).’
Education research from Imperial College London



Illustration of two women doing a high five


We are excited to see what we can do together as a community to provide more equity and opportunity for women as a whole so that their self-belief can propel them towards even greater success.

A very big thank you to all the leaders who contributed to this post!



Advice for students aspiring to leadership
  • Diversity (I-DEA)
  • Intercultural learning & leadership
Advice for students aspiring to leadership