Though John Cushing, elementary school principal of Beanstalk International Bilingual School (BIBS), is originally from San Francisco, the California native has spent the past eight years living and working for the United Nations International School in Hanoi, Vietnam. Cushing has two daughters who live in California and two 17- year-old step-daughters completing their IB Diploma Program in Malaysia at The International School of Kuala Lumpur. Cushing shares more about himself with beijingkids.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Who was your childhood hero?
Growing up I was torn between becoming a musician, a teacher or an actor. I have been lucky in my life to have had successes in all my original dreams and today assisting our wonderful BIBS ES teachers fulfills another of my passions for supporting others. My childhood hero was my grandfather whom I admired greatly for his intelligence and caring. He was an extremely successful businessman, who always balanced and prioritized family first.
What kind of student were you?
I was always the kid with a book in his hand, as I loved to read, until I discovered the guitar. Even today my holiday will always include several books and my iPod loaded with various styles of music.
What was your image of the school principal growing up?
The school principals I experienced throughout my early years were always somewhat aloof and looked to as the ultimate disciplinarians. To be called to the principal’s office was not a positive part of one’s school day. I hope that my image is one of being an open, nurturing, caring leader for our students and a mentor and coach for our teachers. I am one leader of a team focused upon meeting the needs of our children and fostering them to exceed beyond their expectations.
What kind of jobs did you have before becoming a principal? Tell us about the most unusual one.
I toured as a professional musician was business owner of several retail outlets with 160 employees, but my most unusual job was as an underwater photographer and scuba diving instructor trainer. I have travelled around the globe leading scuba diving tours and dove in the waters of every continent except for Antarctica.
What is a typical day like in the life of a principal?
My day begins early as I check for any teacher absences and write our daily Faculty Bulletin Board update. Upon arrival to our Shunyi campus, I meet with the entire leadership group to review and discuss any item of importance to our whole school. Afterwards, I enjoy greeting our students as they arrive for a new day of learning. I meet with all of the teachers to insure that they are ready for the day as well and offer any assistance that might be needed. It is then on to emails, more meetings and my most enjoyable task, visiting the classrooms and observing the learning that is taking place. Then it is off to meetings with new parents or prospective families interested in enrolling their children at BIBS. I quite enjoy this aspect of my position as it allows me an opportunity to discuss what make BIBS such a special school to be as well as the philosophies of the IB, PYP an what inquiry based learning is all about. As the classroom instruction periods end, our after school activities (ASAs) begin. I check in on all the activities from sculpture, study hall, additional English, and art to table tennis. My day ends with a goodbye and smile to all the children as they depart.
What job would you want to do if you were not a principal?
There is no other job in the world that I would rather be doing at this moment. I truly enjoy the challenges and people I work with everyday. It is a rich reward to watch the children and the teachers grow and exceed their own expectations of what they could.
In all your time as an educator, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned?
Flexibility. While we as teachers spend so much energy and time planning and reflecting on lessons, we must be open to the detours our students can take us in their curiosity. Be open to exploring and taking advantage of new learning opportunities based upon our students’ questions. Listen to our children, inspire them to try to do better than they thought they could, and to not be afraid to fail from trying. Several years ago during a Grade 3 mathematics unit on shapes, a student asked a question regarding our school. He asked why the buildings were constructed in the shapes they were and how they were planned. This question resulted in a project to measure the buildings, identify their construct/shape and ultimately to combine shapes creating a model of our school. They were applying their learning in context and visually showing their understandings.
Photo: Courtesy of BIBS
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.