Meet the Headteachers – Wendy Ellis – Principal – La Côte International School

October 27, 2015

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in education?

I spent a lot of my free time between the age of 16 and 21 involved in youth work, and I was passionate about my degree subject, History. Becoming a teacher seemed to be the best way of being able to combine both areas of importance in my life, so I took a further degree in education, with my first teaching experience in London. I have never regretted that decision; working with young people is a great privilege.

How do your own life/work experiences inform your approach to your work?

I take the view that there is a right time for everything but that time differs for each. In the context of an international school, this means that not every child will jump through the hoops that an educational system will set out for them at the same time as their peers and as educators we need to be aware and supportive of this. My father taught me the value of keeping an open mind, developing tolerance and valuing difference in other people. This is important in any walk of life, but I think it can be tested in particular when working in an international setting where systems, approaches and expectations can vary dramatically from place to place.

What have you learnt from your time as a headteacher at an international school?

I have learnt how incredibly resilient children are. I am full of admiration for their tenacity when dealing with the challenge of entering new school environments sometimes in their lives and, very often, with limited proficiency in the language of instruction. I have also learnt just how crucial it is for parents moving around the international environment to feel part of a school community and as sometimes it is the only constant in their changing lives.

What characterises the students graduating from your school?

They are always tenacious, vibrant and ambitious individuals. They value good relationships and open-mindedness. They care about the environment and enjoy creativity.  They are often bi-lingual or multi-lingual, confident in public speaking and, at the age of 18, take with them the IB Diploma – a passport to universities across the globe.

What would you say makes the learning environment extra special?

When your school has a view of Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc and is surrounded by orchards and fields and colours that change with each season and time of day it is difficult not to feel blessed and inspired. This is what students see when they look out from their classroom. Inside they enjoy the light and airy spaces with the latest technology available to them in specialist laboratories, music and technology suites, art rooms, theatre and sports hall. However, we believe that the learning environment is not confined to classroom space. Students enjoy the Global Campus, a virtual learning environment connecting them with students across the world. From the age of 14, they participate in our outdoor classroom in Tanzania, participating in environmental and community projects near our Arusha base camp.

Which features of the school do parents value the most?

Our staff. LCIS has a reputation for its enthusiastic team who are committed and passionate about what they do. Furthermore, our staff turnover is minimal which is unusual for an international school, so parents also see this as a great strength.

What are the main principles and philosophies you promote at the school?

We aim to provide an environment that fosters compassion, respect, confidence and perseverance. We give the children the opportunities and support to discover and develop their passion and talents. We inspire our students to love learning, think creatively, embrace a challenge and set high expectations for themselves.

How do you get children to do their best academically?

By ensuring that the curriculum is engaging and challenging so that students want to do their best and also that students set and meet high expectations for themselves and are supported through high-quality feedback, target setting and regular monitoring of progress.

Which other areas of education and extracurricular activities are you developing?

We have developed a real strength in our Performing Arts, and this year it has been recognised by being chosen for a collaborative programme with the Juilliard School, New York. We are piloting a school music curriculum with Juilliard and benefitting from master classes with different Juilliard alumni. Also, this year our Outdoor Education and Leadership program is being launched with camping and expedition work, orienteering, kayaking, snow-shoeing and mountain-biking.

How do you encourage understanding between cultures and nationalities?

The essence of the International Baccalaureate is to develop intercultural understanding and respect in our students, and that difference is to be celebrated, and therefore curriculum planning reflects this. We reinforce this by asking our international parents to share their knowledge with students, through craft, cookery and celebrating international festivals. Our favourite event is International Day when our students perform music and dance from different countries, and the parents provide an international feast. The Model United Nations is an excellent way of increasing global understanding, and our students take part in at least three of these events each year.

What is the best thing about leading an international school in Switzerland?

The collegiality of other international school leaders, highs standard of health and safety, magnificent buildings.

How do you make the most of everything Switzerland has to offer?

As a school, we try to involve ourselves as part of the local community of Aubonne so that our students are part of the natural rhythm of the seasons. We are lucky to be in a rural setting, and our children have an excellent relationship with the local farmers learning everything from apples to bee-keeping. Our students visit art galleries, castles and the United Nations. They explore the mountains, lakes and cities of Switzerland in summer residential weeks and ski, ski and ski through the winter months.

How do you help international students settle in when they first arrive?

We always ensure that we have an accurate knowledge of their previous learning in English, French and Mathematics so that we can offer support where necessary. We allocate students a buddy in the first month, and we use our parent ambassadors to make contact with the family before they arrive at the school. As most of our students remember what it was like to start at a new school, they are always ready to make people feel welcome.

What are the main trends in education that you see at the moment?

Interestingly there always seems to be a time lag in education; a few pioneering schools adopt an idea, five to ten years later it becomes a trend. ‘Mindfulness’ is a case in point; it’s on every agenda at the moment yet ten years ago to mention it in educational circles was to be labelled ‘alternative’.

What are the main challenges for education as a whole in the future?

I think the debate on the role of the teacher vis a vis technology will continue. Technology will also force educators to compromise on what subjects remain on the curriculum and what is left out.  How technology is used increasingly challenges moral assumptions, so education needs to address this.

How are you equipping your students for future success?

By ensuring that they know how to use technology appropriately; providing them with transferable skills; encouraging them to be good communicators and collaborators; fostering their curiosity, creativity, musicality so that they can lead balanced lives; developing their emotional literacy and values so that they can make considered decisions in a future we cannot predict.

About the school:

La Côte International School in Aubonne, Switzerland, is a Nord Anglia Education day school offering premium education in Switzerland to students between the ages of 3 and 18. Visit their website: http://www.nordangliaeducation.com/our-schools/aubonne

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