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IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Founding Principal: Is It All Worth It?
By Peter Bird 28-Nov-18
Seven years ago, I landed in the Middle East to start a new school, having never stepped foot there before. It was an amazing roller coaster ride of trials and tribulations that ended in the creation of an outstanding middle school which continues to thrive today. Now I have taken the plunge again and arrived in Chennai, India to repeat the experience, once again in a country that I had never stepped foot in before. My first impressions of Chennai were just as I hoped for. It is a vibrant, diverse, historic, cultural, and thriving city with so much to offer the visitor and expat alike. I felt instantly at home. I love the constant ebb and flow of life in the streets, the cows walking down the main roads without a care in the world, and the simple fact that nature is everywhere. The people of Chennai have such a wonderful outlook and attitude toward life. In this modern and thriving city, they maintain their culture and customs as tower blocks spring up around the place. It is refreshing to bear witness to such diversity and cultural understanding as I have seen here. Starting a new school in a new country is obviously a tricky task, and without fail every country I have worked in has its very own bureaucratic way of making it appear harder than needs be. The real lesson I have learned is to take everything as it comes. Accept that your expectations are different from those of others and you will stress a lot less. Allow two to three times longer to do just about anything and you will do just fine. I often find how smoothly the process of founding a school goes really depends on the experience and intentions of the people behind the school. I am very fortunate to be setting up the International Village School (IVS) for the Babaji Foundation in Sholinganallur. This is a non-profit educational foundation with a proven track record in running an oversubscribed Indian curriculum. This means I am collaborating with educational professionals with a clear understanding of what is required in setting up an outstanding international school: high standards from quality teachers. In recruiting, I have focused on establishing exceptional professional working practice from the outset, which I can quickly build on. This gives parents a huge sense of relief and confidence, as many companies that set up schools (which often do not last) try to cut corners on staff wage costs by filling posts with unqualified personnel. I have been placed in that scenario before and it is a hard slog to establish high-quality teaching when staff do not know the basics of lesson planning or delivery. I became an educational leader because I care passionately about children’s academic and personal development. I am happy to say that I can proudly lead IVS because this will always be at the heart of the work we do. So, the scene is set, the purpose-designed new building is complete, the policies are written, the staff are recruited, and the classroom resources all in place. Now comes the real fun as being a founding superintendent is equally about promotion as it is educational leadership. I have learned that big advertising budgets are always welcome, but they do not always result in pupils being registered. The really important arena is the expat mothers’ social media groups. If you have mothers singing your praises online here, then you are off to a good start. Now here I am, busily creating social media buzz and momentum as the countdown clock ticks away on our website. I wonder to myself: Is it all worth it? The stress? The relentless struggle to get simple tasks completed on time? The roller coaster of emotions and fears? The answer is simple: Hell yes! Every day I wake up full of energy for the day ahead. Each day presents its own challenges and I love being in the thick of it. Throughout it all, I am overwhelmed by the recurring feeling of pride and joy. I feel this due to the thousands of children that will have an outstanding learning experience partly due to my role. I am very privileged to have this opportunity to make a real and lasting difference to many young people. I am blessed to have the energy to keep going as this role is made for me and the making of me.
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