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Principal's Blog - Riverside Reflections

Riverside Reflections: Riverside Ready


I’ve got a few bits in (C.Seal snr)

My mum is an organised lady.  The cupboards are never bare, toilet roll is in abundance and the fridge is like a carefully stacked game of jenga - you move yoghurts at your peril!  When she said recently that she had ‘got a few bits in’ I knew she hadn’t been panic buying, but instead just continuing to shop normally, and fully.

It is then reassuring and unsurprising to know that she has recently taken delivery of soil and gravel so that she can continue her gardening activities through 16 weeks of self-isolation which coincides with a crucial period for growth and development in the horticultural domain.

This need to be ‘ahead of the game’ came from a period of British history where ‘just in time supply’ would have been an anathema. The hallmarks of the period closely following World War 2 were uncertainty, limited travel and economic difficulty - recognise this?

So in recent weeks Shrewsbury has done well to draw upon the lessons from Mrs Seal snr.  Carefully building resource, planning for the worst and showing stoicism in hoping for the best. 

In the next few weeks things will be challenging, but we are ready.  The wonderful students of Riverside have been beavering away ‘ahead of the game’ for some weeks now.  

Mr Baxter, our amazing mathematician, who is even older than Mrs Seal snr has purchased a rather snazzy tablet to ‘stop doing what he likes and start doing what is needed’.  We all know that Mr Baxter likes doing things well, and we all know he is ready for the challenges ahead.  I bet he’s got a few bits in too.

Riverside Reflections: Leading lights


Lamps are different, but light is the same (Rumi)

Rumi, the thirteenth century Persian poet, cannot have conceived of a beacon of education in Bangkok when he apparently uttered the words above. Yet, they are fitting in summing up Riverside’s position at this key moment in the history of the school.

At our most recent Governors Meeting we reflected on Stephen Holroyd’s impact over his fifteen year tenure firstly as Riverside Principal and latterly as Director of Schools SIA. Some may have thought that arriving here in Bangkok to have your predecessor as your boss would be difficult, but no. Stephen’s generosity, wisdom and openness have been a wonderful support and lesson for all in the art of leadership.

In the coming months the lamp will change as Tim Nuttall will be in Bangkok in June, but the light will remain the same. Tim is an experienced educationalist with a vision aligned to ours, and someone we all look forward to working with.

Over thirteen years Sally Weston has embodied many of the values of a Shrewsbury education. Enthusiasm, commitment, determination and resilience have been the hallmarks of her rise to Vice Principal over that time and now into headship at Kenton College, Nairobi, Kenya. Though the lamp is changing, Sally’s legacy is the light that remains following all her efforts on behalf of the students of our school.

This week we have seen ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, staff and students returning from quarantine - rare enthusiasm for teaching and learning after an enforced absence.  That light has sustained many in the past days. Light attracts us and offers hope. The light at Shrewsbury is what draws families, students and staff to this family of schools and I can assure you it will remain undimmed.

Riverside Reflections: Every Cloud has a Silver lining


What a week!  The events surrounding the potential spread of COVID19 have provided us all with a severe test of our resilience, resourcefulness and patience.  The long days drafting communication, thinking about the ‘what next’ and coordinating action across our community has meant that it is hard to believe that we are only a week into this issue.  A cloud very much evident in all our daily lives.

As I wrote in my letter of the 27th February, periods such as this show character.  Many examples of staff, students and parents moving well beyond their usual remit to support each other, are equally valuable and equally inspirational.  Being in the midst of this community,  seeing and feeling the efforts of those around me has been humbling but also inspired me to request a set of Shrewsbury PE kit and go to teach a badminton lesson.  A small act and certainly not the most important one of the week, but one that was inspired by my colleagues and for that I thank them.

The bi-product of dropping in to teach a lesson, as all of the senior team have done this week, is that we remind ourselves that the close interaction with young people is what inspired us into this line of work.  It is a role that offers so much satisfaction.  It makes us smile.  The sun behind the cloud.

My role as Principal makes me smile too, and I thoroughly enjoy the way in which I can support the whole school in improving its provision.  Weeks like this test your capacity to keep doing this, but even now we are looking to the future.  How can we provide top class online learning? How much better could our communication to parents be?  How can we maintain the co-curriculum during such difficulties?  How good can our house sport be in times without fixtures?  All of these questions have complex and wide ranging answers but by being placed in trying circumstances we are forced to answer them and Shrewsbury has risen to the occasion superbly this week.  Thank you all, you are the silver lining to a very large cloud. 

Riverside Reflections: No place like home


Absence makes the heart grow fonder (Various)

The Roman poet Sextus Propertius is credited with the origin of this phrase, and in Elegies the phrase is written very much from the standpoint of those left behind, who grow fond of those absent.  This is indeed true and at Shrewsbury we regularly speak of students, parents and staff who have left our community in glowing and favourable terms.  

Sometimes it is human nature to embellish the deeds of the past and think of these absent colleagues and friends as even better than they were.  In sport, there is a similar phrase where players can be described as improving ‘whilst out of the team’ as the coach’s memory allows them to believe that the dropped or injured player was more influential than they actually were.  

However, often the memory is accurate and those you lose really are exceptional people.  At Shrewsbury we quite often have students return to us after a period in the UK, America or at other schools in Bangkok.  When they return they bring their new insight and skills to our community, and improve us all.  It is with delight then that yet again this year I interviewed former staff at Shrewsbury for teaching roles.  Not only does this make it easy to appoint staff from my perspective, but also brings new perspectives into the school as we all learn from their experiences over recent years.  More details to come on this year’s returning staff.

Thomas Haynes Bayly popularised the phrase above in the 19th century and it is he who perhaps drove our more modern view that when someone is away they grow more fond of those they leave behind.  In my case this is certainly true.  I really enjoy travelling, but two weeks away, four flights, three countries, four hotels, 31 interviews and many miles covered in a hire car up and down the length of the UK really does make the heart grow fonder for life in Bangkok.


Even more so are some of the answers I hear in interviews.  I now often ask ‘why Shrewsbury, why Bangkok and why now?’ to allow candidates to speak freely about their motivations.  Sometimes travel is mentioned, others claim to have always wanted to work overseas, but most start with Riverside.  The enthusiasm provoked by what we are doing in our community is genuine.  Candidates are reading and watching, researching and deliberating, enjoying and savouring the notion of working in our wonderful school.

Hearing candidates wax lyrical about the community, the students, the aspirations among parents and staff, the facilities, the location, the academic rigour, the co-curriculum and the vision of the school is humbling as it is reaffirming.  More than anything else, it just makes me want to come home.  I’m so pleased to be back - have a great half-term.   

Riverside Reflections: The Recruitment Run


Hiring the right people takes time, the right questions and a good dose of curiosity (R.Branson)

I write from Suvarnabhumi Airport at the start of a two week trip to find the next group of Shrewsbury teachers.  In some ways this is a rather different trip to the norm.  

Firstly retention at Shrewsbury is up again, this time over 90% and moving steadily towards our aim of retaining 95% of teaching colleagues year on year. Secondly, I am travelling through Dubai to explore the growing number of applications to Shrewsbury from teachers in the Middle East.  High numbers of high quality professionals already thinking internationally and now looking for a more engaging and stimulating place to work has got me curious.  Thirdly, I’m looking for fewer teachers due to retention but also looking for additions in many cases rather than replacements.  Through support from EXCO we have not only created four new internal roles recently that will require staff to step outside of teaching, but we are also growing the Science, Mathematics and English departments - more of this on my return.

Upon arrival at Shrewsbury nearly a week from now, I will be met with a warm welcome to offset the cold weather.  Leo Winkley (Headmaster) and I have much to discuss around continuing efforts to link up our alumni, Maghin Tamilarasan (International Development Director) will have more fresh thinking around synergies especially in the IT domain and Anna Peak (Deputy Head Pastoral) has already assembled a formidable field of gap students for 2020/21.  The food will be good, and I look forward to my fish and chips with Riverside alumni studying at Shrewsbury on Friday, and subsequent alumni events in London, including our first 6th Form Exec alumni brunch.

The biting wind that reminds me of some of the reasons why teachers move to sunnier climes, may also feature in a speech I am giving to a group of senior leaders at the Boarding School’s Association in the time between Dubai and Shrewsbury.  The conference chairman has asked me to address the ‘challenges of international leadership’ but I’m sure I will find myself talking more positively of the reasons why international leadership is so engaging and enjoyable - especially at Shrewsbury.

With Riverside in such good health, there cannot be a better time to be recruiting new colleagues and my curiosity will be met with a range of fascinating characters in the coming days - bring it on.