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The High School Student News Site of The American School in London

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Choosing the future

Selecting the new principal

A thought popped into my head while I was doodling in class: Why couldn’t I be principal? The obvious answer, that I have not graduated from High School, silenced the little voice in my head, and I moved on. But, as I went back through that thought, I decided to test the waters and find out what this process would be like.

“I am always looking, first and foremost, for deep intelligence and expertise. I am interested in someone who has content knowledge, and also someone who has very thoughtful practices around teaching… at least a master’s degree and a doctorate if possible … loads of high school teaching experience. In equal measure, someone who is a team player, very collaborative … and understands how to bring a group together,” Head of School Coreen Hester said regarding her search for a principal. Smarts, people skills, teaching experience, leadership experience. This is what I had to fake.

I had my official interview for High School principal on Tuesday, January 22. I had built a skeleton resume to give to Hester, as well as looked over the job description, and tried to fit a character who was exactly what Hester would want, while speaking truly as myself.

We begin with a question about teaching. “What is important to have in the classroom?” I summon four years of High School experience, and little else, and begin to improvise. I talk about experiential learning; how helpful going to the British Museum can be, how great movies, etc. are. Hester sits kindly, nodding and agreeing. I do not know if she is going easy on me, but it feels natural and kind. She asks me to expand on my experience, and I start to ramble off qualifications I have made up. Head of History at a school for five years, why not? Doctorate in education, sure.

I talk about communication in a classroom, quoting Up the Down Staircase, I talk about the importance of the teacher walking around the classroom. Thinking back to old classes I have taken, the things that teachers did well stick in my mind, and I share them with Hester.

We talk about hiring and firing, I make up a story about firing a bad member of staff. I try and picture the person who I had to fire. Someone had complained, no improvement had been made so “he had to go,” I half-laugh. I try to convey as much sadness in this as I could. “The students come first, because without them, why are we here?” I say stoically.

She asks me what adjectives my colleagues would use to describe my management style, and I reply with the classic, “hands-on!” “smart!”, “hardworking,” adjectives classically used in job interviews. This is when she starts to fade, so I quickly make up stories to justify these adjectives. I try and extrapolate my experiences in High School to the real world. I want this job, and I am going to fight for it.

One of her last questions involves developing curriculum. I talk about setting up a history class for the ninth grade, trying to remember things that I enjoyed. I stutter more than I have before. I go through a bit of nonsense here and there before I am stopped. For the first time in the interview, she corrects me, and informs me that it is a much more technical piece. How to guide discussions on developing units is mentioned. Words like “backwards design”, “assessment” and “unit template planning” are expected. This is the first real hole in my knowledge that Hester has been able to exploit.

The topic of assessment is brought up. She feels that ASL is “irresponsible” because we “think students have done successfully because they get into good colleges” even though “socio-economic status” is more closely linked to those results. I pause to collect my thoughts and mention “backwards design” as if I am the authority figure on the subject. She laughs, and I continue more seriously. I talk about putting in assessments that focus on other aspects of subjects, and not just the practical test. Hester begins agreeing excitedly, and we have a nice discussion over these possible activities in order to come to a real understanding. She mentions “Project Zero,” a program out of Harvard university, apparently.

Conversation peters out, and I get up to leave. I ask her if I have the job, and she says that with the added technical knowledge that would come out of more education, I would be a serious candidate. I laugh, and leave, but as I get to the door, she reaffirms that I should consider going into education, that I could make an excellent administrator.

Reflecting on the past

When students think of Principal Paul Richards’ four-year tenure at ASL they might complain about Alternatives being canceled and the lack of snow days. They might be surprised that he similarly mentioned “the kerfuffle with Alternatives, lack of snow days and too many emails” as some of his low points while reflecting on his time at ASL.

Richards also discussed the highlights that he hopes to be remembered by. According to him, his biggest impact was “improving the quality and consistency of the learning experience and bringing new topics to the forefront of conversations, such as stress, diversity and mindfulness.” These were issues personal to him and ones he thought needed to be brought to the attention of the High School.

Richards said he enjoyed a very successful teem as principal. In four years, he mixed his passions with what he thought would be the best way of improving the quality and consistency of the learning experience.

He emphasized the importance of the individual student, on the sports team, in the classroom and outside. He taught a class on race and culture and coached varsity tennis, enjoying both experiences. He reiterated his zeal for sharing a powerful bond with students when he said, “Whenever I visit Student Council, it’s been a real highlight of my week.”

Richards may be viewed as an introverted leader, but has a sense of humor under his more serious facade, which contributed to his bond with the community. Asked about his relationship with the rest of the administration, he said, “I hate ‘em! Does that mean I hate myself? Just kidding, I feel the same way about them as I do the teachers.”

On a more serious note, Richards said he and teachers have had a mutual respect for each other. Teachers see him as honest and having his heart in the right place. This mutual respect comes from changes he has made that students might not recognize, but teachers appreciate. This includes his hiring of new teachers and his initiative to increase writing expectations throughout all departments.

Still, Richards sometimes felt friction between himself and the teachers because, he said, “of what I ask them to do and because sometimes they feel I am asking too much of the wrong things from them”.

Richards still has some items on his agenda that he would like to complete before he leaves. He said he was excited to announce the one-to-one program initiative which means every student must bring a MacBook to school every day and he hopes to help incorporate technology into the curriculum. Richards also wishes to win gold at ISSTs for tennis before he leaves. Finally, he wishes to create a smooth transition for the interim principal.

Coming into ASL, Richards envisioned that, “It would be a fantastic personal and professional experience.” He had very high expectations throughout his experience, which led to some disappointments. He wished he had spent more time with students rather than being caught up with the administration. He said, “It’s hard to make time when I have so many meetings and emails to respond to.”

Nevertheless, he has no regrets from his time at ASL and said, “I think the High School is in a better place than it was four years ago, and that is a credit to the teachers and administrators who have joined me in the improvement projects,” he said. “I’m happy that it has fulfilled my dreams. I thought the community would be warm and accepting, and I was correct. We’ve loved our time in London and at ASL, and we’ll deeply miss everyone.”

In a similar reflection, Head of School Coreen Hester described Richards as a “student of school culture, always listening and really watching at how we are doing.” After listening for a while he set a path and followed it, Hester said. This path was one concerned with the student experience, leadership and raising the expectations of the learning experience. He accomplished this, Hester said, by “making sure every student has an adult who they can talk to.” He put up every student’s name on a wall and told teachers to put their name underneath every student they could have a conversation with.” This set the standard for what Richards truly cared about. Hester said Richards was good at “being visible and caring about students.” A standard which he hoped all teachers would emulate. He tried to push a strong sense of leadership in the High School by setting high expectations for all department heads.

Citing an inter-staff survey, Hester said, “Ninety percent of the school faculty trusts [Richards] and feels as if they can collaborate with him,” proving that his high expectations have paid off.

(Culture Editor Matthew Bentley contributed to reporting).

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