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10 Questions with...Ciaran Harrington
  • 10 Questions

Ciaran Harrington is Principal at British International School of Stockholm.

1. What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Building a great team is one of the most rewarding things you can do as a school leader. When you consider your staff will be working with your students every single day, getting the best they can from them, it is so important to get the right people into the school. That applies to everyone, no matter what their job is in the team. I have always enjoyed the whole recruitment process, but then most importantly, working with your team towards a shared vision of education is immensely fulfilling.

2. What/who inspires you?

I have done a lot of work recently on schools as organisations. My interest was initially piqued by the late Sir Ken Robinson’s “changing paradigms” speech which really struck a chord with me. If we are going to send our students out to the world of work as it looks now, not as it looked during the industrial revolution, then our schools need to reflect that. In addition to educational reading I like to be inspired by business orientated ideas around how modern companies function. I had the chance to follow a Google employee for a day when I worked in Singapore to get a sense of how they worked. It was fascinating.

3. Which living person do you most admire?

This is a really tough one. Barack Obama comes immediately to mind. For me he personified what leading in difficult situations was really like. He did everything with humility and compassion. Interestingly, when I then looked it up, Barack and Michelle Obama are considered the most admired man and woman recently on a Gallup or YouGov poll. So maybe I am in good company there.

4. What is the best part of your day?

Getting out into the classrooms, playground, dining hall, school gates, anywhere I can see students and staff going about their daily life and working out how I can have some influence to make it better. 

5. Which talent would you most like to have?

To be able to speak multiple languages. I have now lived in Hong Kong, Singapore and Sweden, and although I have picked up some of each language in each country I have never found it an easy skill to master. 

6. What is your favourite thing about the country you live in now?

Sweden is a truly beautiful place. The scenery is stunning in the summer and I have yet to witness the winter landscape but the vast areas of remote land lend itself to picture postcard type settings. However, the one thing that I have really enjoyed is the idea of Fika. On the surface it might look like a coffee break, but this is a society that values human connection. Fika is more than coffee and cake, it is a social event that brings all walks of life together. It’s a great concept.

7. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Professionally, I have worked in two large international schools in Asia that went through extraordinary growth. Leading change when everyone knows it will lead to more change is challenging as there is never a good time or place to stop. To look back at a school that has fulfilled its growth and is operating at a very high level gives me a great sense of accomplishment. And then I move and start all over again...

8. What part of the COBIS network do you value most so far?

I have only been with COBIS for a few months, and given the pandemic I have yet to fully experience all it has to offer. So far, the informal Heads network has been of real value to me. I think I have now joined two group meetings along with two conversations with my assigned buddy plus the conversations with Head Office. Knowing there are other people to talk to who are working in similar circumstances gives me a sense of security.

9. What advice would you give your younger self?

Go and be an international school leader sooner. I left the UK when I was 35 but soon realised everything that international schools offered professionally, personally and for my family. I was asked this question by a (future) colleague when I was interviewing them for a senior position. “Any regrets?” he asked. Just that I hadn’t done it sooner.

10. What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

When I was in my early days of secondary school I used to sing opera. I performed twice at the English National Opera in London’s Coliseum Theatre. Anyone who knows me now would be surprised that my voice may once have been good enough to do that!