04/15/2024 by members of the International Schools Practice |

Interview with Aracelis Maldonado on her Path to Leadership in International Education

Senior Consultant, Karen Neitzel, had the privilege of sitting down with Head of School, Aracelis Maldonado, at the East Asia Regional Council of Schools Conference (EARCOS) held October 2023 in Bangkok, Thailand.  Maldonado is the incoming Upper School Director at the American  School of Paris, a search led by Karen and Chaya Keefe of CS&A. Her previous experience includes a headship at the Nansha College Prepatory Academy in Venezula as well as a strong background as a teacher in international schools across the globe.  She reflects on her path to leadership and how she encourages growth for teachers in her own leadership style.

Can you describe how your career in education began?

I was a social studies teacher for grade 8 students at the American School Guatemala.

I worked there for two years and in my second year I was the grade level leader. I then moved to Malaysia and was in a teaching role for another year. I had no idea that this was not the typical path into leadership.

What prompted your interest in leadership?

I had been an HR manager before I went into the classroom and really enjoyed working with adults, so leadership opportunities filled that desire to continue that work.

Who supported or encouraged your interest in leadership?

My head of school in Malaysia, Rob Mockrish, was the one who encouraged me to take an Assistant Principal role. I had never thought of myself in that role I had always thought I would be a grade level leader or curriculum coordinator. If he had not asked me if I was interested, I wouldn’t have pursued it.

How did you find leadership opportunities or positions?

At the time, the school in Malaysia was an ISS school.  Through this school I was able to interview for leadership roles. I was looking for the experience and was not as focused on location.  I was particularly interested in newer schools that might give me an opportunity to have my voice heard.

What are some examples of your flexibility and adaptability?

Being in China during COVID was very challenging! We needed to meet our goals of providing a quality education for our students. We really had to consider all possibilities and how to adjust to support children and teachers. I also transitioned from the principal to the head of school role at the same school. This was another adjustment that I had to make. I had to my shift the lens and focus I had been using as a principal and also get others to see me in a different light.

Sometimes you have to move out to move up, do you have experience with this idea?

I think about this idea frequently because some of the teachers I work with ask about the path to advancement. I have been very fortunate to provide leadership and growth opportunities to my teachers. The heads of school I have worked gave me the same support.

What is one thing you have learned about yourself since you accepted a leadership role?

Resilience! I keep surprising myself with how much I can handle in a crisis situation. I think I am a resilient person in this profession. It is important to see every opportunity as a learning opportunity instead of a negative circumstance.

How do you rest and recharge?

It is so easy to live in the international school “bubble”. As a leader, it can be difficult to find the space, given the roles. I try to do things outside of school and with others. I salsa dance, strength train and participate in other physical activities.

Do you have a motto, quote, or saying that you try to live and lead by?

“This isn’t about us, we are replaceable as leaders.” I work at the school to create policies and structures that will survive beyond my time. I am supporting the students and faculty and none of it is about me. If I do my job well, I will have a long term impact on the school environment. You need to think about others before yourself.

What advice would you like to share with aspiring leaders?

Whenever you are trying to frame a new initiative or idea, connect it to the school’s mission. Plus, think about your audience and what they will get out of it. This will help you frame the idea in a way that resonates with your community. Always keep in mind who you are being of service to. For anyone who walks into my office, I always ask, “how can I help you?”

Back to Blog

Leave a Comment


There are no comments on this blog entry.