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Principal's Blog - Riverside Reflections

Riverside Reflections: If you build it, he will come


The 1989 film Field of Dreams tells the story of Ray Kinsella, a fictional character who builds a baseball diamond on a farm in the middle of nowhere.

Late in the film all-star players from yesteryear arrive to play in a dreamlike sequence wrapped in sentimentality.  

The film is often remembered for a misquoted line, when earlier in the film Ray hears a voice telling him ‘if you build it, he will come’.  As often with movies, the line turns into what you want to hear, in this case - build it and they’ll come.

The combination of lines has been on my mind for a while.  It applies to schools.  If you build great schools, students and parents will come.  This is what we are doing with our new facilities.  Build world class science labs, classrooms and computing spaces.  Offer students at the top of the school space to think.  Allow all to dine comfortably, and then exercise vigorously in sector leading spaces.  All this on the foundations laid over the last 17 years in purpose built spaces.  A great school becoming greater.  

The ‘build’ part of this doesn’t always have to be physical either.  Building capacity in particular areas such as particular languages, courses such as Economics or Psychology and in roles such as Head of Outreach.  Build it and they’ll come.

Nobody was quite sure what Head of Outreach would be doing when I announced it last year, but this weekend we saw the launch of Equity Partnership Season 2.  Shrewsbury students partnering children from Thai schools all over the country in innovating and pitching products to JD central.  Mutual benefit, outreach, leadership and collaboration.  It started with just Shrewsbury students last year and now more international schools come together to refine, support and grow this event.  Build it, and they’ll come.

At Shrewsbury numbers in engaging subjects with outstanding teachers are up.  More families are accessing our playgroups in the new EY garden and the British Club.  Sports teams are bulging, and charitable efforts blessed with increasing numbers of volunteers.  Build it and they’ll come.

Riverside Reflections: The Pull of the Old School

I didn’t think I’d be one of those dads, but as the possibility of my eldest studying at my alma mater became real, an unexpected tide of emotion guided my actions in the months leading up to her first term away from home.  

I never wanted to live my life vicariously through her.  Loughborough University from 1991 to 1995 was a different time, and we do different things.  However, what I realised is that what I wanted for her was a sense of happiness and challenge from one of the world’s best institutions for her subject.  This is what I had experienced, and so as with many ill informed conversations about Higher Education, it was my only reference point for many years.

The Higher Education team at Shrewsbury is far from ill-informed.  Ms Dunnham’s arrival offers the students an additional US counsellor to compliment the legendary Ms Overton and the extraordinary Ms Fretwell, Ms Walker and Mr Markes.  The knowing looks I’ve had from them all tell me they understand the ‘legacy’ concept as much as any parent.  

Recently Mr Markes and I met some Shrewsbury alumni mums.  Extraordinary people from a time when Shrewsbury was in its infancy, with clear and cherished memories of a very special time.  They are curious and forensic in looking to understand what has changed at Shrewsbury over time, and especially keen to hear where Shrewsbury is going in the future.  In them I saw myself, loving parents looking to provide the best possible life chances for their children.

I met my wife at Loughborough, and Shrewsbury has also had its first Shrewsbury wedding.  Selection of Alumni of the Year for 2020 (soon to be announced) took a very short time this year as incredible achievements now litter this widening and ever growing family.  Each year it will get easier to celebrate the achievements of our incredible alumni, and we will be filled with pride in all that they do.

In turn alumni can often underestimate their impact on current students.  The role modelling is obvious, but sometimes self deprecation can miss the inspiration our alumni offer.  Knowing and understanding what our alumni are doing shapes our strategic planning, it informs us about how to prepare young people better, and bring joy and pride to all those connected.  

Mature schools with well organised and passionate alumni associations offer certainty, diversity and inspiration. The pull of the old school becomes stronger as we get older, broader and better. Our alumni association, SISBAA, is a key part of who we are, and will be a key part of where we are going.  I look forward to meeting many more alumni mums and dads in the future.

Riverside Reflections: Out with the old, and in with the new?


You can’t beat something new.  The smell of a new car, the crispness of a new bank note, the thrilling early stages of a new relationship.  

Every school year brings this sense of newness.  Some new facilities to explore and enjoy, new students to settle and nurture, and new parents to welcome into our wonderful community.  The new staff offer the opportunity to reflect on the complexity and excitement of Shrewsbury Riverside.  

Their slightly bewildered faces as they exited quarantine some weeks ago now are memorable, and not so different from the ones we see most years in my apartment for a post flight coffee.  This bewilderment lingers for a while as they get to grips with a school of nearly 1,800 students in a relatively small corner of Bangkok.  It reminds us that our community is complex, diverse and vibrant.

Now that the term is in full swing, the bewilderment has changed to purpose and enjoyment.  Strings Festivals organised, trips out with artists, sports teams being managed, lessons delivered confidently and with the skill we expected from recruitment processes.  New staff becoming current staff.

For a while we will be talking about Philip Stewart as the new Vice Principal (Head of Junior).  When he joins in 2021 he will bewildered by the variety and quality of what we do.  It will take him time to transition from the new VP, to our current VP.  This process is normal and far from new, but along the way we will also gain from the newness that we welcome.  

We hope he doesn’t smell like a new car, and in the Bangkok heat his shirts won’t stay as crisp as a bank note for long, but the excitement of a new relationship will benefit us all.  He will learn what Shrewsbury is, and we will learn much from him.  His experience is considerable, his intellect strong, and his enthusiasm for providing the best environment for young learners is fierce.

But finally, new is only one piece of the complicated jigsaw puzzle that we call education.  

Shrewsbury is rightly proud of our wonderful community and all the sections within.  We celebrate those who have worked here for 15 years or more, the students who stay here longer do better - old is good!  So it can’t be out with the old and in with the new.  Instead we look forward to the new complimenting the old, as Bertold Brecht once said ‘mixing one’s wines may be a mistake, but old and new wisdom mix admirably’.

Riverside Reflections: Welcome Back!


It has been truly wonderful to complete this week at Shrewsbury.  A week where the co-curriculum roared back into life, a week where lessons and home learning picked up pace and intensity, a week where the leadership teams moved the school forward again.  

This was a week where we held the first joint Heads of School lunch.  Junior and Senior Heads of School, joined by Senior Prefects, Sports Captains, Deputy Heads of School, Music Captains and the staff involved in their selection.  It was a wonderful moment to bring together students across the school who have asked for the responsibility of representing a growing and diverse culture.  The noodles were good, the ice creams enjoyed and the conversations urgent and tinged with excitement.


Coming together over a meal we reaffirmed our relationships.  We are working together to make this school greater, and this was echoed by a meeting held earlier in the day with two of our most respected students.  They came to offer flowers as part of the Wai Kru celebration.  As we completed the celebration, and I received the flowers on behalf of all the teaching staff we connected over the meaning of Wai Kru.  The cultural tradition so valued in schools is important and respected, but increasingly important is the communication between student and teacher in gaining a shared understanding of what this moment means.  

For staff at Shrewsbury it does not mean deference. We neither expect it nor demand it.  We want young people to challenge themselves and others throughout their education within the vital framework of mutual respect.  We learn much from our students, and only do so in collaborating and offering freedoms that build confidence and courage.

Courage comes in many guises, and this week we also welcomed the new EY1 parents to come together and learn more about how we will support their children in the years to come.  Holding their nerve in recent months required courage, and this show of faith in Shrewsbury will be repaid by the hard work, skill and brilliance of our teachers.  Mutual respect will foster open, honest and courageous communication in good times and more difficult ones.

Great schools are built on great communities, which in turn come from strong relationships.  A new term, many new relationships, but the same commitment to build these in a positive and respectful way.  Welcome to Shrewsbury!

Riverside Reflections: Back to Business


Yesterday I met with Shrewsbury Parents and then took to making a video to address some concerns about our return to Riverside this term.  As ever, I was disappointed to hear there were areas of our operation that hadn't quite reached everyone's expectations. Yet, I was strangely pleased to be dealing with issues about parking, the shop and the boat. Not once was the 'C' word mentioned….

These conversations are the meat and drink of being Principal. Ever seeking to improve what we do - the feedback of parents, students and staff forms a critical part in ensuring we are always moving forward. In the past, I would then respond with a carefully constructed letter, but times have changed. Blessed with a face for radio, I am no media superstar, but these past few months have shown us that we can and should do things differently. Therefore, there will be more videos to come this year!

Increased agility is a focus for our leadership group this year. More meetings, more often but of much shorter duration. Listen to the feedback, assess and consider, devise a response, and move on. A swifter, more agile set of actions and reactions. In doing this, we hope you see the school change - not in a reactive and scattergun way, but in a carefully considered and positive fashion that brings incremental improvements as we move through a year.

Some things don't change—the professionalism of our staff, both teaching and non-teaching. Preparing a school for opening is always a colossal effort and Mr Pinks' team once again stepped up. The design department looks incredible, and the new admissions, marketing, reception and shop areas all a significant improvement. In the classroom, our teaching staff have responded to the challenges around masks and distancing superbly. In exercising their agility, they have found ways to adapt their outstanding teaching to the new term.

As I write a rather odd case of local transmission has been found in Thailand. The nation will hold its breath, the economists again turning into pessimists, and we all hope and pray that this can be contained. In the weeks ahead, we must continue to enjoy what we have. Face to face lessons, sport returning, music beginning to emit from the fourth floor and grumbles about the traffic are all part of being back together as a community. These moments can be good, bad or indifferent, but all are moments to savour in a way we might not have done before.