PMP242: Leading from Xi’an International School with Brittainy Harris and Paul Wendler

Brittainy Harris has been working at Xi’an International School, located in China, since 2010.

With her undergraduate degree in education, she landed at this American-based international school (that was founded in 1996 with the help of Shaanxi Provincial Bureau of Education) and began to teach multicultural students in a 4th grade classroom for a total of 4 years.

In 2015, she shifted to Middle School English for a total of 6 years, 4 of those years using her master’s degree in Curriculum as Curriculum Director. During her years in the classroom, she found that connection between people and focus on content helped students with not only developing as students, but also to be life-long learners and tomorrow’s leaders. 2020-2021 is her first year as a Principal. She finds leading through a Pandemic at an international school is a wonderful challenge for her first year and is thankful for the support of her XIS community and beyond.

Paul Wendler has been in China since 2001 when he and his wife started teaching at the university level.  After many years of language learning, humanitarian work, raising children overseas and teaching in Chinese public schools, both university and High School/Middle School, Paul was recruited by the XIS school board to become it’s first superintendent in 2014.  Since then he has worked closely with two principals in creating a long-term and sustainable vision for the future. Paul has a bachelor’s degree in Business Management, has a satisfactory grasp on the Chinese language, and holds two master’s degrees in both Business Ethics and Teaching English as a Second Language. 

In this series with school leaders from across the globe, Brittainy and Paul share lessons they have been learning while leading an international school during a pandemic. 

Listen in to the entire episode, but here is a short summary:

Questions & Answers with Brittainy and Paul

WDP: Brittainy and Paul. Welcome to Principal Matters Podcast. Can you fill in the gaps on that intro and tell listeners something else they may be surprised to know about you?

Brittainy: You may be surprised to know I was a struggling student with dyslexia. I have overcome a lot of learning challenges to become an educator. 

Paul: I’m a practicing ventriloquist with a puppet named Pong-Pong the Panda. I still have room to grow but plan to introduce Pong-Pong to the world in a couple of years.

WDP: Can you tell us more about your school? What do you find are the challenges and opportunities of leading in your school?

Paul: Because we are an international school, many of our teachers are native English speakers and were home in the states when the pandemic began. A lot of them are still in the states, which means we have had many classes being monitored by other adults while our teachers teach online from abroad.

Brittainy: We have been using the free study guide from Pause. Breathe. Flourish.: Living Your Best Life as an Educator with our staff. This has allowed us to focus on self-care even as we prepare to work with our students.

WDP: What are some of the unique advantages of leading an international school?

Brittainy: As an international school, we teach students from a lot of different cultures and countries. Where Americans are strong in creativity, our Asian students tend to show strength in memorization. We offer Chinese to all our students so that our students can connect with their own neighbors.

Paul: I have a passion to see students catch on to learning a lot earlier than I did as a kid. Some of our students are amazingly talented. We want them to foster a desire for learning in them. This is also my community as I’ve lived here since 2010. We want our students to engage in their communities here and really live here. It’s so important for them to study the language and step out of the foreign bubble. 

WDP: What lessons are you practicing in self-care (to pause, breathe, and flourish)?

Brittainy: One of my favorite ways to refill my emotional tank is through the influence of others. I try to listen deeply and take in the stories of others, even with podcasts like yours. The influence of others helps me to keep my influence positive.

Paul: I find strength by making bad news good news. In other words, I look for ways God may be using the difficult parts of my day to teach me. Scripture, especially, the Psalms have been a real source of strength for me.

Now It’s Your Turn

Paul and Brittainy share even more takeaways in the podcast interview. Listen-in for more lessons learned!

Their team has enjoyed a Pause. Breathe. Flourish. book study with the free study guide from at

You can contact Brittainy via email at Or reach out to Paul via email at Visit their school website at

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker