I was a rebel. Getting sent to the principal’s office, while terrifying to some, was just another day in school for me. Through experience, I was numbed to the horror of standing on the opposite side of the principal’s desk while being called every name under the sun.
Where I grew up, it was normal, to be shouted at, or even beaten when students did anything wrong. Gone are those days when principals were the bane of every teenager’s existence and everyone shuddered with fear at the very whisper of the evil one’s name.
These days, our children are very lucky. We live in a tight international community, and everyone knows that our international schools thrive on exorbitant tuition rates. As a result, parents expect their children to be nurtured in a strong, effective way, while at the same time being treated like little prince and princesses.
The job has evolved over the years, and being a leader requires principals to build trusting relationships with their faculty, staff, students, parents, and other pertinent members of the community. It is no easy task, and here we present to you the brave souls who carry this huge responsibility of educating our children, here, in and around dynamic Dongguan.
They did what ?!?!
Read the story; discover the men and women behind THE desk. Can you match the principal to the student they once were?
A) Pasted a sexy poster girl on the geography teacher’s roll-up map, so when he pulled it down, “Ooh-la-la”!
B) Rode a bike down a ravine!
C) Swam with sharks!
D) Got an F in Math!
E) Admitted to being dull!
F) Surfed giant waves!
G) Scared the daylights out of a teacher by putting a cockroach in her blackboard duster!
H) Captured and hid free-range chickens so their owners couldn’t find them!
EtonHouse International School
Country of Birth: United Kingdom
Years as an educator: 12
Favorite Chinese food: Hotpot
Favorite color: Yellow
Favorite animated movie: The Lion King
Favorite cartoon character: Spongebob
The Pageant Girl
With a smile that can light up any room, Hina emits an aura of warmth and friendliness. She is young, but has no problem commanding the respect of her staff and faculty. While she has a strong mind of her own, she listens and accepts their opinions. “Happy staff, happy school!” Hina says. “I am also very hands-on. I go around the entire school, sit in on classes and interact with the students on a daily basis.”
Hina has known since youth that she wanted to be a teacher. She specialized in early childhood education, and post graduation, her teaching posts were paired with advisory roles. She taught in England for a while, and on a holiday to Bolivia, she encountered under-privileged children. That was her ‘ah-ha’ moment. She applied for an international job, got hired by EtonHouse International School, and within four years, assumed the role of principal.
Her biggest inspiration and influence was her father, who was also her mentor. “He was the one who taught me about the value of education. He would make me watch documentaries and read national geographic, and collect the weekly Tree of Knowledge series. He was a really good man and really about making the world a better place.”
When asked if being a principal has changed her (besides the title adding 10 years to her age), she smiles. “I know that every decision and choice I make in everyday life reflects on the school, and I want to inspire people. I believe we can change the world through education, and by providing a safe, stable and happy learning environment. We encourage children to be the best that they can be.”
She loves to dance, is a social butterfly with a large network of friends who love her, and believes in enjoying every moment.
When not working, Hina likes to immerse herself in nature, and indulge in her love of photography. She loves to dance, is a social butterfly with a large network of friends who love her, and believes in enjoying every moment.
She is also quite the artist. “Once, I drew graffiti on the outside wall of my school cafeteria, and was caught by my principal. He did not see it as artistically as I did, and I was on litter duty for the next two days. Needless to say, I have never drawn on a wall again!”
Golden words of advice for parents to bring up a well-rounded, happy child, “Be a good key role model. It is our duty to educate children to be responsible and caring citizens of the future, and to inspire them to achieve wonderful things.”
LUKE AMMON WOODRUFF
QSI International School
The Poster Boy
If you met Luke on the streets, it would be hard to believe that he is the principal of one of the top international schools we have. Blessed with youth and good looks, Luke, a first-time principal, leads his crew with ease, by listening and valuing their opinions and input.
After a few years of teaching in Canada, he wanted a different experience, and so he went to work in QSI Chongqing for two years, before moving to QSI Dongguan. He has been here for six years, holding the role of vice-principal the last three before recently assuming the role of principal.
While he loves his new role, he misses teaching and interacting directly with the children. “Having to deal with parents on a larger scale is a challenge, but I always listen, respect and try to get them involved as much as possible. My door is always open, and parents are always welcome to come talk things out with me.”
When asked if it gets lonely at the top, Luke says “I do not think of myself as being at the top, but more of a problem-solver. Being from the QSI group, there is a large network of QSI directors across China and so it is easy for me to reach out for networking and advice.”
While he loves his new role, he misses teaching and interacting directly with the children.
His love for children shines through when talking affectionately about one particular experience. “I was coaching a 9-year-old girl with her homework and was in the middle of explaining it. Unknowingly, she had been distracted by my very hairy forearms and could not resist the urge to touch.” As Luke glanced down to meet the daydreaming eyes of the young student, he felt being in that moment when her focus snapped back to the material world was a rare connection with childhood curiosity. “Her expression was priceless.”
On the weekends, Luke spends time with his family and hangs out with his friends. He also likes to explore the old parts of Dongguan, play basketball and tennis.
Golden words of advice he would give to parents: “Be real about who your kids are. Know what they are capable of, and listen to them.”
JOSHUA CHARLES KEMPF
The Golden Boy
Chinese people think Josh looks like David Beckham, and he embraces that, even though he does not think so. With an air of confidence about him, Josh leads his school in a collaborative way. He believes in everyone putting their egos aside, and working together. A perfectionist, Josh likes to handle things looking at the big picture, but at the same time work on the small details. “A crooked painting annoys me,” says Josh, “I may have OCD!” He laughs.
After graduating from business management school, Josh taught P.E. in an all-boys school in Tennessee. And when his parents started TLC 10 years ago in Dongguan, he saw an opportunity, and grabbed it. After a year of teaching at TLC, he found his passion for teaching, and did his masters in teaching online. Following that, he held the role of vice-principal for a year, principal for two, and is currently the chief administrator of TLC International School.
Josh’s face lights up when talking about his predecessor. “Before me, my mom, Ms. Jamie Kempf led the school with grace and love. She set the tone and precedence in establishing that, a school is just there to support families, and ultimately, the responsibility of bringing up a child belongs to his parents. We are just there to help and guide them along the way.”
Ask if he had to make any compromises since he took over as principal, Josh says, “My priorities have changed. There is definitely a lot more responsibility, and it can be a 24/7 job because there are just so many areas to take care of. But all in all, it has been a blessing.”
“Jesus Christ is my ultimate mentor. He has shaped my view of education.” Josh is passionate about his faith and on weekends, he serves at church and Haven of Hope, a charity set up by his wife. He can also be seen hanging out at the malls. “I love to shop!” He says unapologetically.
“… the responsibility of bringing up a child belongs to his parents. We are just there to help and guide them along the way.”
His students adore him. “There was once, the kids covered my entire office with paper, and on it, were 100 reasons why they love school!” However, he did not always want to be a teacher.
When he was a kid, Josh wanted to be a fire-fighter or a singer. And he was not always good. When he was in college, he, along with a few other friends pushed a giant trash can against the door so that when their (very unlucky) friend opened the door, tons of water would spill all over him!
Golden words of advice for parents: “Do not over-focus on one area of your child’s life. Focus on a good balance of mind, spirit and well-being. Also, know your child’s learning style, and make sure their educators do as well.”
PETER MICHAEL ROBERT LEES
International School of Dongguan
The Father Figure
Michael is a father, and ISD is his baby. He is the man who grew the school from nothing into what it is today. He is a force to be reckoned with—strong, capable—but at the same time approachable and attentive. He believes in empowering the people he leads, and building their capacity so he isn’t needed. “When they stop looking to me for answers, it’s a great place to be!”
After graduating with a degree in Anthropology, Michael trained as an airline pilot, and ended up as a flight instructor. There, he found a passion for teaching, and went to Teacher’s College in Windsor and then University of New England for a masters. A job fair in Canada landed him in Colombia, and, subsequently, teaching jobs around the world. Over the years, he went from teaching Math and Science, to holding more administrative and consultancy roles in countries like Uganda and Saudi Arabia, before assuming the role of director for ISD Dongguan.
Being a director has validated Michael’s understanding that he can make a difference, and the importance of looking and handling things on multiple levels. “Watching an organization grow is like watching a dynamic living thing grow. It is amazing. I have the best job in the world.” Michael beams with pride.
“Nature versus nurture? We are endowed genetically with natural tendencies, but with the right nurturing, we are capable of doing anything, and sometimes even overcome some of nature’s seeming impediments.”
On the weekends, Michael still works, and when he’s not, he stays home to watch TV, Skype with his family, and enjoy his solitude.
The young Michael, full of hopes and dreams, wanted to be a marine biologist, or rescue African animals. He was big into exploration.
He was also the guy you loved to hate, one of those people who could party all night before a big exam and still ace it. “In College, I skipped 95 percent of my Zoology classes, because it was always pub night before. Despite skipping classes, I still managed to top the class.”
After graduating with a degree in Anthropology, Michael trained as an airline pilot, and ended up as a flight instructor.
With his wealth of experience, Michael shares an interesting encounter. “Africans practice polygamy. Once, when we had a parent-teacher conference, a boy came with two mothers. I did not know which mother to direct my questions at.”
Affectionately called “Santa Claus” by some kids, he indulges them. “In my first year, the pre-kindergarten children started a trend of flicking my tie whenever I walked by. And so for a whole year, my tie got flicked anytime I walked by any of these little ones.”
Golden words of advice for parents: “Love them, support them, but hold them accountable for their actions. It is ok to let them fail. Just as a baby turtle needs to develop particular muscles to break out of its shell, a child needs to be taught to deal with reality.”
ANN BELANGER CHEDORE
Country of Birth: Canada
Years as an educator: 40 years
Favorite Chinese food: Sweet and sour fish
Favorite color: Black and white
Favorite animated movie: Anything Disney
Favorite cartoon character: Mickey Mouse
The Head Mistress
With support from her cane, pending her hip replacement surgery, Ann props herself up to greet me. Friendly and accommodating, she proceeds to tell me about her life story.
“I was a teacher in Canada for 35 years. After retiring from the New Brunswick Canadian system, I went to Beijing where I taught for two years, before being promoted to the principal of the elementary there for three years. Now, I am the principal of the Western department for Mensa Kindergarten Dongguan part-time, and also Concorde College in Guiyang part-time.”
Ann believes in leading her staff from behind. “We have very good teachers so I let them work as a team. I am not afraid to make decisions, but being observant and quiet, I listen and make them after careful thought.”
While most of her peers her age are retired, Ann refuses to do so. She believes that she is still growing and learning everyday. Especially since the focus of a principal, more often than not, becomes more business than educational. She feels that there are always new challenges, and dealing with these challenges keeps her cautious, aware, and young.
Amidst cries and screams of children in the background, I ask Ann if she has ever lost her cool with any child. She says, “When a child behaves in a certain manner, he is trying to express himself. When that happens, we as educators need to remember that it is not personal, and with that in mind, you will not lose your cool with the child.” And how does she communicate and engage with their mainly Chinese student body? “Through a translator, and a lot of mime!” She laughs.
Ann does not get out much during the weekends. She stays home to knit soft toys, socks and hats to give away. She loves traveling to exciting parts of the world and experience different cultures, her favorite being the panda reserve in Chengdu.
“Looking back, I think the trauma of being sent away to a boarding school and learning a totally new language really affected me …”
Trying to control her emotions, she tells me about a turning point in her life. “When I was in grade 3, my parents were very busy, and they sent me to a boarding school. It was all in French, and totally foreign to me. I did not do well that year. Following that, my parents switched me to a regular day school, but I did not work very hard and actually failed that year. Looking back, I think the trauma of being sent away to a boarding school and learning a totally new language really affected me, so that when I had a little freedom, I took advantage of that and become rebellious. But thankfully, at that point, my parents realized what was going on, took measures and I turned around.”
Golden words of advice she has for parents, “Have boundaries with your children but at the same time allow them to experiment. Give them lots of opportunities to learn, not just with books, but life-learning.”
MICHAEL KINGSTON WYLIE
Utahloy International School Zengcheng
The Zen master
Michael has a militant, no-nonsense air about him. He is probably the closest to the stereotype of an old-school principal.
He believes that running a school is very much about building teams and collaboration between students, teachers and parents, and it is important to provide a vision so people have a collective dream that leads to good judgment.
His first five years of teaching, were in a fairly poor school in Melbourne with lots of immigrants coming from Vietnam, right after the war. There were also lots of other refugees from all nationalities. That experience made him want an international job, and he got a post in Vanuatu in an agricultural college for local indigenous children on the South Pacific island. Since then, he has worked in France, Venezuela, Melbourne, Australia and in Nice, in the south of France where he was the director of the international school. After three years, he felt like a new adventure, and ended up in Utahloy, where he has been head of school for the past four years.
“Within the school environment, I need to make sure that I manage people with good judgment and fairness, so if I seem to be friendly with particular groups in the community, then people would think that I’ve got favorites. So, I have to be a little distant, and in that respect, it can get a little lonely. But, I still have a close network of friends I share holidays and experiences with.”
The boarding school often has sporting events on the weekends, and Michael will always be there. But when he has time off, he likes to go cycling around Luo Fu Mountain, next to the school. “I live a very balanced life. I get disappointed, but I don’t get angry. Anger is not a healthy reaction, and by doing good exercise, like running and yoga, you don’t experience anger.” Namaste.
It is not hard to imagine. Michael comes from a very strict school in Australia, where it was a rule to wear a coat and tie and be properly dressed. Regardless of the weather, they were not allowed to remove the uniform, to or from school. One day, it got very hot and Michael decided to take his jacket off on the way home from school. He got caned with a stick the very next day.
Ask about culture shock in China, and Michael shares an encounter. “I had trouble understanding what a local was saying in Mandarin, so what they started doing was speaking in Cantonese. When I still could not understand, they started writing in Chinese characters. Till today, I do not know what the message was!”
Golden words of advice for parents: “Enjoy being a parent. Cherish those years because children grow up so quickly. Teach your children to explore and not be frightened of getting their hands dirty. Do not put your children in cotton wool and be over-protective. Have confidence in them.”
Hanlin Experimental School
Country of Birth: China
Favorite Chinese food: Shanxi noodles
Years as an educator: 23
Favorite color: Green
Favorite animated movie: Romance of the 3 Kingdoms
Favorite cartoon character: None
The Shi Fu
Alex comes across as a very humble person. Quiet and observant, he speaks slowly with careful thought. “My first administrator role was in Xi’An Middle School, as its vice principal. I stayed there for 11 years. In 2004, Hanlin Experimental School opened and I was asked to be the principal of the junior high school. After a few years, I am now the Principal of the whole international department, which is a new department, so I am the pioneer.”
When Alex first started as a principal of Hanlin, he had the burden of marketing and selling the school as a private school offering an international education. But it worked out well. “All parents who send their children here are not like other common parents. Their goal is to prepare their children to live abroad someday. They think differently and focus more on character building and composure.”
Alex believes that children are like blank pieces of paper, and we can easily draw on them. Through education, the right environment and teachers’ influences, undesirable character traits can be changed. Hanlin is a boarding school and children spend five days out of a week there, so good character can really be enforced and drilled into the students.
“We were from the village and were very poor. All I ever wanted to do was change my family’s financial situation and give them a better life.”
Alex did not start out aspiring to be an educator. “We were from the village and were very poor. All I ever wanted to do was change my family’s financial situation and give them a better life. Upon graduation, according to exam scores, I was assigned to a teacher’s training college, and that was that. At that time, you were considered lucky if you had a job—any job. It was only through time, that I started to like it and excel in it.”
Fun for Alex is very different from what fun is to kids these days. He was fearless as a child. Turning a deaf ear to repeated warnings, he would lead his friends to go explore the caves in He Yang. The caves supposedly housed toxic substances and had dangerous overhanging formations that could collapse at any time.
These days, Alex hangs out at Tong Sha Reservior on the weekends, enjoying the scenery and fresh air. He also spends time helping his wife with household chores and shopping.
Having been through it himself, Alex can relate, and often organizes trips to less fortunate villages to do humanitarian work. “Jin Gang mountain village is a very poor village. So poor, some children do not have the means to get an education. We would organize students to go spend two weeks living with the villagers. This not only provides a meaningful exchange for learning and bringing some aid, but also reminds our children of how privileged they are.”
Golden words of advice for parents: “As your children get older, you have to respect and try to understand them. Some people criticize their children their whole lives. You cannot do that. Communication is key.”
Canadian International Kindergarten
The Joker in Disguise
When you first meet her, Joan may come across as shy. She smiles sweetly and apologizes for her lack of English, speaking so softly it is barely audible. However, as we all know, first impressions are not always right.
Since graduating from university 20 years ago, Joan has always been in early childhood education, teaching at a government kindergarten in Guangzhou for seven years, before partnering with a friend to open their own kindergarten. 10 years later, she got head-hunted and employed by Canadian International School and has been its head of school ever since.
“Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. As a leader, I learn everyday to accept both the good and the bad. I feel I have grown more gracious as I work with the shortcomings of others,” says Joan. “As a principal, I have to stand taller and look further than everyone else.”
“We provide the best of both worlds,” Explains Joan. “Our school offers an all-Western environment in the morning, and an all-Chinese environment in the afternoon. Chinese parents want their children to be exposed to Western education and vice-versa. So regardless of whether the child goes on to study in an international, or Chinese primary school upon graduating from us, it will be a smooth transition for them.”
Joan believes strongly, that acceptance is the best form of love you can give to a child. Every parent has their own expectations and ideas of what is best for their child, but the child’s character may not be a good fit with those expectations, and then both parents and child get discouraged. However, if you accept and love a child for who he is, and work with him, while understanding his capabilities and limitations, the child can reach his full potential.
She lights up and a wave of excitement takes over as she tells me about her childhood. “I was very playful. I was 15 and in an all-girls boarding school. Across the street was an all-boys school. There was a 3-meter-high wall between us.
“As a leader, I learn everyday to accept both the good and the bad. I feel I have grown more gracious as I work with the shortcomings of others,” says Joan.
“We waited till everyone was asleep, and a few of us climbed the wall to escape to meet up with the boys from across the street. We took a train to Jin Sha Bay, with our teachers from both sides chasing our tails all the way. We were caught and hauled back,” Joan giggles, and for a moment, that 15-year-old girl had appeared right before me.
“Although it was not a successful escape, the journey itself was exhilarating.”
Golden words of advice for parents: “Your attitude is very important. If a parent is not happy, it is impossible to bring up a ‘sunshine’ child. As parents, we need to set a good example. Kids imitate their parents’ behavior, so if you want a well-mannered child, it starts with you.”
Answers: Hina Patel, C; Luke Woodruff, A; Alex Hu, H; Michael Wylie, F; Josh Kempf, D; Michael Lees, B; Ann Chedore, E; Joan Qiu, G.