Community & Service 25 Oct 2018

In conversation with Angela Hollington, Lakeside primary principal

By CIS Communications
Photograph by CIS Communications

What’s your most memorable experience as a school administrator?

That’s a very good question because it’s actually very hard to pinpoint one actual event that’s been the most important, or memorable. To give you a recap of where I’ve been before CIS, I was in Germany, Switzerland, Tanzania, Austria and England so I have been lucky to have had many different experiences in different counties.

Being an administrator is a really interesting job because you’re asked to do lots of things. You obviously oversee teaching and learning, but there have been some funny things I’ve been asked to do in an administrator capacity - things I’ve never ever had to do before. For instance, when I was in Tanzania, one of my team said to me, ‘you have to come quickly because there is a cobra in the bushes by the library’ and I was thinking ‘why are you telling me that? What am I supposed to do?’ But in that sort of situation, you really have to think on your feet and ensure the safety of your community - I’ve had to make decisions and decide what we had to do. That was interesting.

Another experience was where a little boy had broken into the school grounds and was taking old papers and pencils that had been dumped into our ‘landfill’. This is obviously stealing, but he wanted to do that because he wanted to learn to write. This little boy was brought to me by the guard who was literally taking off his belt to beat him as he felt that the child should be punished physically. Of course this is not the right thing to do. but he was stealing, which is wrong. A moral dilemma and what do you do? So as you see, as an administrator, the way you are asked to do different things and make decisions on the spot is interesting, and usually always memorable!

What has impressed you most about CIS since you joined?

It’s a big school but it has the feel of being in a small school - in that we look closely at each student and their needs and cater for them, and the way in which everyone knows each other. The way the primary school has been structured around pods as a learning community is excellent, because the children get to know their teachers and peers and the learning community becomes really strong. The structure works extremely well because we’ve got great teams and everyone works very hard.

As primary principal, what do you believe is the most important contribution to CIS’s daily operations?
As an administrator, I can see how we can develop things. I think listening to the people who are working closely with our children is very important. What we’ve got in place at CIS is great - and I encourage people to think about how can we develop things further, and how we can make this the best school it can possibly be. One of things I’m doing as the new principal is having interviews with every staff member, teacher and instructional assistants in the primary school so I get to know them and can hear their thoughts about the school.

What I bring to CIS is also a lot of different experiences in different situations. I’ve trained teachers and student-teachers, and also worked with students with very different needs as well as being an IB Workshop leader, Consultant and School Visitor. Having this experience gives you good perspectives on new situations.

Why is professional development (aka professional learning) important for teachers?
I think it’s crucial because we are all learners. Professional learning inspires teachers to be the best they can be because it keeps their teaching methods up-to-date and our teacher should be the best they can be for our students. I think learning together as a team is also very important because you can put the information and knowledge into place with a colleague.

Professional learning can really change your mindset too. I did an online course on bilingual and multilingual learners, which really changed the way I look at the learning of English in an international school. Before that, the approach was ‘you don’t speak English and we need to fix it’. This thinking is based on a deficit model, but the fact is, non-native English speaking students bring rich literacy in another language. In the past, people used to think: ‘no, you’re not allowed to speak your mother tongue here’. It makes English seem like a superior language, but it’s not. It’s a language that a lot of people speak, and that a lot of people want to learn. But a child who speaks German, for instance, brings a totally different and rich perspective to a school community. The child has literacy in German already, so all we need to do is put English on top of it. It’s really all about looking at language learning from a non-deficit model perspective. I think that's really important.

Tell us something that’s not on your resume.

Let’s see, I took a belly dancing course in Switzerland once in order to learn Swiss German and  I also have done some tap dancing! Great fun. I like to do different things in the countries I move to so that wherever I go, I do something different. When I was in Tanzania, I climbed Kilimanjaro to see what it would be like. Now I’m in Singapore, I want to learn Chinese calligraphy so I’m going to be taking a class...probably in January.

In Berlin, I started to watch a lot of German films - to develop my German language skills. I wound up becoming quite interested in the film culture in Berlin.  I used to go and watch a German film at least twice a week after school on my way home. Some of the cinemas were in the former East Berlin and were very interesting.

I’ve moved around so much and there’s always the danger of being in an international bubble if you don’t venture out. You can either engage in the host country and culture, or you can look at it from a distance. The joy of being in international education is that you get wonderful opportunities to find out about the world in which we live….we just need to take them!