Perfect alignment

Four elements

Dr Steffen Sommer, Director General at Misk Schools considers how the alignment of four core elements lays the foundation for any successful international school. He practices what he preaches.

Successful international schools

Successful international schools are almost always able to achieve a very special kind of alignment between the needs of their students, what they teach, how they teach it and the aspirations of their ‘host nation’. Harmonise these elements and it’s time for lift-off. Neglect any element at your peril. Establishing this harmonised alignment has been at the heart of our strategic planning at Misk Schools.

The context: Vision 2030

First the national context. It is exhilarating to be part of an international school leadership team in Riyadh at a time when Saudi Arabia is rapidly transforming into an innovative and world-leading nation.

The Kingdom’s transformation has been inspired by Vision 2030, the country’s strategic roadmap to diversify its economy. Modernising the education system sits at the heart of this ambitious plan, in recognition of the need to unlock human capacity for future success.

For us at Misk Schools, Vision 2030 is the backdrop against which we have defined our own vision, which is to become a top school for leadership, enabling students to serve their nation and the globe. A lofty goal to say the least, and one that requires a pioneering approach to teaching and learning within our context.

The needs of our students: personalised leadership coaching

We want to help children believe in themselves, take risks, and persist in the face of challenges.

When we describe leadership to our students, we emphasise that it can take on various forms depending on the context. To help illustrate this point, we categorise it as:

  • leadership of themselves
  • leadership of others
  • leadership in their area of expertise.

To be effective, lessons in leadership need to be infused across the entire curriculum, becoming a pervasive part of school life. This requires personalised coaching and mentoring in areas such as communication, conflict resolution, and teamwork. Whether it’s a science class or a team sport, we treat every interaction as an opportunity to coach students in positive, principled leadership behaviour. For example, we encourage them to volunteer, to lead by example, to be brave problem solvers and to practise active listening.

This is further formalised when students enter the Senior School and their timetable allocates space for distinct leadership modules and professional qualifications (e.g. diplomas from the Chartered Management Institute), as well as service, enterprise and community internships tailored to complement personal goals and career aspirations.

What we teach: our curriculum

When designing our curriculum we began by asking: “What should a Misk Schools graduate look like?”

Our answer was that students will leave us prepared to lead with purpose because they are passionate learners, critical and creative thinkers, and globally-minded citizens who strive to learn what it means to live life well, and assume responsibility for making the world more habitable and humane.

This again may sound like a typical school marketing promise but  it is no less important for all that. In fact, it is a considered articulation of our ambition, and was the starting point for the creation of the Misk Schools Diploma, a holistic PreK-12 programme carefully curated to deliver this graduate profile.

At its core, the Misk Schools Diploma uses the well-recognised Cambridge International Pathway, alongside the Saudi Ministry of Education’s National Identity Subjects. This content is enriched through best-of-breed co-curricular, well-being and safeguarding programmes.

Like so many other good schools, thanks to our partners and talented staff team, we have been able to build first-rate curriculum and programme content – the ‘what’ if you like.

How we teach: our pedagogy

The right pedagogy has the power to bring high quality content alive, transforming it from an excellent curriculum into an outstanding education.

Given our vision, the choice of pedagogy was easy. We have embraced High Performance Learning (HPL), and are partnering with Professor Deborah Eyre, HPL’s Founder and Chair, to create Misk Schools High Performance Learning (MSHPL) – a bilingual version designed specifically to meet our requirements.

HPL also creates an ideal environment for our interdisciplinary approach to leadership.

We have recalibrated our CPD portfolio to align with the HPL philosophy, which now underpins all development programmes at our on-site training centre, the Misk Schools Academy. Starting next academic year, we will offer a fully-funded, one-year teacher development programme to ten Saudi graduate teachers. Successful students will earn an iPCGE and, for the most talented, a two-year contract at Misk Schools and the opportunity to achieve HPL Teacher Standards accreditation.

HPL is a global movement that is changing how we educate by incorporating the latest findings from neuroscience and psychology. It is grounded in the belief that the human brain possesses remarkable plasticity, and that intelligence can be cultivated. This contradicts earlier, outdated views that led to children being pigeonholed as either academic or not, based on an early-age assessment.

For HPL to truly become an integral part of a school’s learning culture, it must be systematically embedded. This results in an environment that encourages students to articulate their understanding in the classroom, engage in collaborative and imaginative thinking across all subject areas, and participate in rigorous, analytical tasks.

When implemented successfully, HPL fosters each child’s self-confidence by recognising and nurturing their individual potential. For instance, students may develop strong problem-solving skills or a passion for exploring new topics. Overall, HPL promotes a culture of high performance and empowers students to achieve their full potential.

We expect to gain HPL World Class School accreditation within the next two to three years.

Early days

It is still early days at Misk Schools. Our first students will graduate in 2025 but we are confident and excited about the balance and alignment we have been able to find between providing a strong foundation of essential knowledge and proficiencies, and fostering the kind of life skills young people need so they grow into purposeful and passionate leaders.


Steffen Sommer is the Director General of Misk Schools in Riyadh. Previously Principal of Doha College, he is the Vice-Chairman of the Council of British International Schools (COBIS). 

Dr. Sommer is speaking at IPSEF Global, 2023 in London on June 28th.




FEATURE IMAGE: The new Misk Schools campus in Mohammed Bin Salman Nonprofit City– the first non-profit city in the world.

All images and graphics with kind permission from Misk Schools