Tell us about yourself. I am from Australia. I have been in China for almost ten years, in Beijing for a over a year and a half. I have a three and half year old son who attends Huijia Kindergarten, Sanyuanqiao Campus, where I am the principal.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Originally, I wanted to be an acrobat in the circus, then after breaking my arm and having to stop gymnastics, that dream faded. I then moved onto wanting to be a veterinarian until in middle school when I went to do an internship in a veterinary clinic. Within two days, I decided seeing animals dying was not the profession for me.
Who was your childhood hero?
After growing out of the Pippie Longstockings phase, I think the people I most looked up to were my teachers. A few special teachers inspired me throughout my life.
What kind of student were you as a child (e.g. the troublemaker, teacher’s pet, class clown, etc)?
I was kindly named the teacher’s pet in primary school because I loved school and everything about it. However, I now realize that I only loved school so much because I was lucky enough to be academically talented.
What was your image of the school principal when you were a student?
My primary school principal is still remembered fondly in my heart and in the hearts of the whole community. He was an inspiring man who knew each and every child personally.
How do you describe your image now?
The younger children call me Mummy, the older children call me Adele. I think their words describe my image – I care for them and I am a friend. When the children are unhappy they come to me for a cuddle and when the children are excited about something they have done, they run to my office to show me.
Did you ever get sent to the principal’s office?
I did once. I was so terrified and they didn’t tell me why I was being called in. I sat nervously outside of the office only to be greeted with a smile as she wanted to talk to me about the next public speaking competition.
What kind of jobs did you have before becoming a principal?
Tell us about the most unusual one. I think my passion for working with children started with my first high school part time job working at McDonald’s as a children’s birthday party hostess. I used to do up to six birthday parties a day on weekends showing children how the cheeseburgers are made while also being an entertainer.
What’s your typical day like?
I don’t really see myself as the typical principal, therefore my days are a little different than most. Every morning I greet all the children at the front door and take them into class, I catch up on paper work and meetings while the children are having breakfast, then I go to visit all the classes and say good morning to all the children and join in their activities. After that, I get onto the boring things like doing safety and hygiene checks of the entire school, going into the kitchen to test the food for the day, then back to do some more paper work. Twice a week at lunch times I do collaborative planning with teachers and professional development. In the afternoons, I pop into all the classes to see the children and do teacher observations and assessments.
How do most people respond when they find out you are a school principal?
I think it depends if you are speaking in English or Chinese. In China, a principal of a kindergarten / preschool is quite a respected occupation, however I think a lot of English speakers still think of kindergartens as tiny little day care centers without realizing most kindergartens in Beijing now are places with hundreds of children and thousands of square meters.
How do your kids or your spouse introduce you to their friends?
With my husband being Chinese, I don’t think my occupation is the first question on his friends’ minds when they meet me, they are usually stuck on the shock that his wife is a foreigner! My son introduces me as, “This is my Mummy, she is a foreigner” and always clarifies, “But my Daddy is Chinese, so I am a foreigner and Chinese.” I don’t think my occupation ever comes to mind for them!
What job would you want to do if you were not a principal?
I think the only other job I would ever do would be to be a PYP (primary years program) teacher. I love the PYP, I love children, I love being in the classroom with kids, exploring, investigating, and working with them as a partner in learning.
In all your time as an educator, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned?
I think the most important lesson I have learned has been from my experience in IB PYP, we always teach the children the importance of reflection. It’s not something I consciously thought about before entering into PYP education, but now I reflect on a daily basis and act upon my reflections whether at work or at home. For example, if my son has a tantrum, after I have settled him down using a variety of negotiating techniques, I try to not focus on the tantrum itself, but reflect upon what caused the outburst, what was the trigger and how we could prevent the same thing happening in the future. Through my reflections I realized that shoe shopping was a trigger for my son! Who can blame him when we know what it is like to be a big-footed lao wai trying to squeeze into shoes in every shoe shop in Beijing! At work, I reflect a lot. If I have a student teacher who looks confused when I am babbling on about inquiry based learning I take a breath, reflect upon my own words, and then find another way to explain myself in terms that everyone can understand.
Meet the Principal/Headmaster is a new beijingkids blog series designed to give the Beijing community a better understanding of who our education leaders are in our city. If your school is interested in being featured in our Meet the Principal/Headmaster blog series, please contact the School Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org.