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Principal's Blog - Riverside Reflections

Riverside Reflections: A life well lived


Think not how they die, but how did they live

Last week we said goodbye to a much loved colleague - this is my address to the school on Friday 5th March.

We come together here through a school year for  a variety of different reasons.  Some joyous, some less so.  Some in celebration, sometimes to remember. We come together today to remember one of our own. 

Mr Holes came to Riverside in 2016, after an excellent UK career where like many of your teachers, he had been a leader.  As Head of Faculty he had successfully managed a large team of teachers across 5 subject specialisms.  As brother in law to Riverside Physical Education teacher at the time, Mr Baldwin, he was welcomed with open arms. 

One of his supporting references from 2016 simply stated:

‘Mr Holes is a valued colleague who I recommend to you without reservation for this position.  He is enthusiastic and passionate about his subject enabling students to have high quality experiences within this area.’

Amen to that.

Mr Holes died on Thursday 18th February aged 40.  Too young, for a man of such rich talent.  Too young for a much loved colleague Too young for a loving husband and devoted father

Mr Holes was a keen sportsman and fitness fanatic, further compounding the challenge in processing this news and the shock felt by the community over the last two weeks.

Mr Holes was a much loved teacher here with a vibrant and vital character.  He was an important part of our community, as indeed his wife Ami and two daughters are still.

I can recall early meetings with Mr Holes when I arrived in 2017.  He always walked straight towards me with a broad grin and an outstretched hand.  
His firm handshake was not an attempt to ingratiate, just an expression of this genuine and welcoming character.  You remember people like Mr Holes, they make an impression on everyone.

Over the years I got to know a committed professional with a real passion for doing things well.  Mr Holes lived life to the full, gave his all when in school and gave just as much to life outside of lessons.

In his own time he designed and built his own products, bringing his subject to life.  Many staff own something Mr Holes designed and made whether it be a chopping board, a bar stool, a wedding present or a gift for a family member.  Mr Holes also built bespoke camping vehicles and was in the process of renovating a property in France.

He loved his rugby, and his motorbike.  In days gone past we might have referred to Mr Holes as a ‘man's man’, as he liked traditionally male pursuits.  
But this overlooks the kind and sensitive individual who always asked ‘how are you’ like he really meant it.  

Beneath what seemed to be a granite like exterior which could intimidate the untrained, was a gentle and caring man - his friendships were deep and warm and will be sorely missed.

Grief can impact people in a variety of ways, and as such there is no right or wrong way to deal with this tragic event.  
Mr Holes had seen his fair share of grief too, losing both mother and father in recent years.  Mr Holes dealt with it stoically, but not in a silly or old fashioned way.  

The emotions he was feeling through those difficult times were close enough to the surface for us all to see. So my guess is that Mr Holes would be fine with our show of emotion today. I reckon he’d be fine with stopping lessons to say a few words about him too. I reckon he’d even be fine with us all reflecting on his impact on us all.

Mr Holes showed us that life should be lived.  Enjoy each day, and get as much from it as you can. These statements seem obvious and yet we find ourselves procrastinating and delaying things all too often. Today is our opportunity to stop and remember but also begin the process of moving forward.

I’ll finish then with what might have been a Mr Holes team talk on the rugby field; work hard, commit everything you have, don’t waste a moment
but most of all, stick together.

It is us who need to stick together now as we move forward without Mr Holes. Thank you for everything you did for us.  We will miss you, and try to do you proud.

Riverside Reflections: Happy New Year (again)


With our campus swathed in red, and lanterns swinging in the welcome breeze Riverside celebrated the start of the year of the ox this week.

With gifts from the Shrewsbury Parents’ volunteers, and a myriad of wonderful outfits the campus was noisy, colorful and filled with joy.  It is hard to believe that only two weeks ago this all seemed very distant again.

The opportunity to celebrate three different new year celebrations is a sign of our diverse and inclusive culture and also our capacity to enjoy the opportunity to restart and refresh.  The theme of refreshment is key to many new year celebrations.  Washing or sweeping away poor luck feels cathartic, and although never easy to stick to, making resolutions for new projects or behaviours allow focus.

In reopening the school for the third time after periods of closure, we are hopeful once again that we can again begin to sweep away some of the restrictions on our lives.  This is easier said than done and we all know this will be a long process, but to have the school full with enthusiastic learners and teachers delighted to be back doing what they love, we have a glimpse of what is ahead.

Learning is the thread that binds us all in the Shrewsbury community.  Over the past twelve months we have learned much.  How to deliver a school online, how to reopen after closure, how to manage students safely and successfully in a pandemic, how to keep aspirations high in all areas of school and how to continually work in an environment that offers few certainties or security.  

As we all know learning is not a linear or easy process, but one where progress can plateau or accelerate swiftly.  Schools experience institutional learning as an aggregation of the people within. Over these twelve months Shrewsbury has built on the wealth of prior experience held to adapt to challenging circumstances.  It can do this well as the average stay for staff at Shrewsbury is over 6 years (3 contracts!).  In 2020 (pre COVID) we retained 93% of our fully qualified teaching staff, in 2021 we will retain 96% of them. Exceptional people drawn to stay at an exceptional school.

The more we stay together the more knowledge and experience builds, all of which benefits the students especially as the Shrewsbury community navigates uncharted waters.

So as another new year dawns, Shrewsbury embraces all that is ahead with the benefit of all that has come before.  If you search ‘the character of the ox’ on google, Wikipedia tells you that ‘strong, reliable and fair’ are the keywords that describe that year.  

These words are perfect for describing Shrewsbury’s journey in recent months.  The strength of the experience and intellect of the exceptional people we already have, the reliability of knowing that the institution retains almost all of the community year on year, and fairness links so strongly to our ethical and valued governance from the UK and Thailand.  

Not a bad way to move forward - happy new year 新年快乐

Riverside Reflections: Adversity's unexpected gifts?


It has taken me a while to come up with a response to my positive and enthusiastic blog post from mid December. I was looking forward to another thrilling and exhilarating term of excellence and creativity in our marvellous school - then COVID returned!

So here we are studying from home, with teachers responding swiftly to a return to online or distance learning, and parents supporting us all with patience and strength.  Quite a turn around, and one that we could be quite disheartened by.

However, there are some positives to this situation and the last twelve months in general.  It is an unfashionable thought, and one that I make with a clear and profound understanding of all the challenges of recent times. 

Firstly, the swift return to online learning was exactly that - swift.  The clarity provided meant we were better prepared, better supported and working with a group of young people who were more prepared for all that is to come.  A group of young people who may be more resilient now than twelve months ago? 

Our provision is not perfect, but much better.  We are improving, and more open about what we are trying to achieve.  Over the course of the last few months there has been more communication between school and home about pedagogy, how students learn, how we examine, why we do certain things in education, and what evidence base we have for them.  These conversations and the democratisation of teaching and learning can only be a good thing.

The Shrewsbury community is clear that seeking the very best teachers is a priority for me.  This is a challenge I relish, and those highly qualified and experienced professionals guide and support you all through the labyrinthine world of education.  The best ones of course do this with a sense of reflection and renewal, and the openness to new thinking and opportunities to challenge long held but unsubstantiated beliefs.  These are the teachers who always catch my eye - the ones who reflect on the lesson you just watched and say ‘well it could have been better’, even if it was already outstanding.

So we have the experts at Shrewsbury, but those experts are growing and learning too.  In recent months we have appointed more of these outstanding teachers.  An Historian with a first class honours degree from Oxford, another Mathematician from the same institution, an outstanding EY practitioner from one of our best feeder schools and scientists with PhDs.  All keen to move to a school and country that values high quality teaching and learning.

Usually at this time of year we are advertising around twenty teaching positions - this is normal for a large school and a 8-10% turnover is a healthy one for any school.  However, this year we retain 96% of staff as a result of the current situations in Thailand and the UK and as such look forward to finding only a few more exceptional people to join a community that reflects, grows and develops together in a resilient manner.  COVID is something none of us wanted, but something that has shaped us, and in some ways shaped us positively.

Riverside Reflections: Happy New Year (twice)

Happy New Year (twice)

It is a curious feeling to be heading towards 2021 in Thailand and wishing all a Happy New Year knowing that Songkran is still four months away.  

The throwing of water in April is always deeply symbolic in marking a new year as well as great fun, and a way of restarting things for many.  We could all do with a restart.  An opportunity to put 2020 and COVID19 behind us.  We are then uniquely blessed at Shrewsbury to celebrate the start of two years - the Gregorian calendar restarting in January, and the Thai celebration in April.

So, we get two chances to wash away the memory of a most difficult time.  We get two chances to step forward in our new lives.  We get two chances to bless each other with good will and wishes of good fortune.  

In recent weeks I have shared much with the community about 2021, and the excitement that we will all experience at the completion of this phase of our building works.  Similarly we are excited about how our academic programmes continue to build in breadth and depth, our sport continues to push new boundaries, and music developing fresh thinking and ideas opening up a world of opportunities.  2021 has the capacity to make us all forget 2020.

However, we should not forget 2020 completely.  This community has been tested in a way that all communities were.  We are still standing, no, we are still flourishing.  To flourish is to grow in a vigorous and healthy way.  Remarkably 2020 saw this happen at Shrewsbury.  

In numbers yes, but more importantly in those programmes already described and also in the delivery of a top class musical in School of Rock.  Equally in response to the challenges of February, March and April we grew as a community.  Tackling adversity and understanding the challenges set and the solutions required.  It has been a joy to see students and staff grow and flourish.  My weekly donut eating contest is a measure of all that is well in our community, and the varied and persistent membership of the Floreat club has been humbling to witness.

2020 may not have been kind to everyone, but ironically then for Shrewsbury it is a year we should recall with some fondness.  We came through, we flourished, we grew closer and stronger and we find ourselves in a great position to enjoy 2021.

I wish you all a very happy festive period, and also look forward to a new calendar year but the continuation of what is already an enormously successful academic year.

Riverside Reflections: In the Band


My last blog post, ‘The November paradox’ was nearly two weeks ago, and then I detailed the challenges of a full calendar as we come towards the end of the term.

Today I write after a rather late night celebrating the success of the cast and crew of School of Rock.  The small gathering I had in my apartment displayed the exhaustion, exhilaration, camaraderie and commitment that is necessary to deliver excellence.

School of Rock was an absolute triumph.  Eighteen months of hard labour, a changing cast, changing body shapes and voices, students learning instruments from scratch and staff brilliantly led by Ms Sanders willfully giving time to a project that we could barely believe was actually being delivered.

The story of Dewey Finn, a fraudulent no hoper who cons a class and school into forming a band, eschewing the traditional curriculum in the process, might not seem the obvious choice for the leading academic school in Thailand.  Yet the story of School of Rock is so important to us.  It reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously.  It reminds us that life is about balance.  It reminds us that music has real value in all our lives, and it reminds us how music makes us feel.

An anonymous member of the leadership team and I both confessed to a consistent struggle during the performance last night, to keep control of our emotions.  The visceral performances, the context of the near abandonment of this show and the extraordinary talents and skills of cast and crew brought joy and happiness to so many over three nights.  Wow!

This show comes during that intense period I alluded to a few weeks ago.  The Music Scholars played quite beautifully at The Peninsula hotel seven days ago - a calming and soothing experience made all the more enjoyable by the wonderful venue.  The New Staff Recital showcased the effortless power of Mr Archibald, the stunning intensity of Mr Watkins and Ms Calvert and the quiet brilliance of Mr Jay.  

On each occasion, the power of music has spoken to us.  It has filled us with pride as we are personally connected with all involved, and in our own private ways has allowed us to think positively about all that is to come. Music lifts the spirits, a tonic for the harder times and an expression of joy and emotion that moves us and inspires us.  

Music at Shrewsbury is in good health.  Talent abounds and in a recent review we have settled upon ‘inspiring young musicians’ as the clear yet ambiguous mission statement.  We intend to inspire them, and we intend to surround ourselves with inspiring people and sounds, and as well as climbing ‘Mount Rock’ we intend to scale the heights of all types of performance by delivering an outstanding music curriculum.  As we move forward, you’ll want to ‘be in the band’.