Shanghai skyline: Pearl Tower
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Abu Dhabi mosque
International high school
International high school
A group of teachers discussing their lessons
A job interview at an international school
Shanghai skyline: Shanghai Tower
Shanghai skyline: Shanghai Tower
Leader interview

Apr 17, 2018

Interview with Matthew Conn - Head of International, Nanwai King's College School Wuxi

Nanwai King’s College School Wuxi is one of two new school development projects in China initiated through partnership between the Chinese education management group, Dipont Education, and the prestigious King’s College School, Wimbledon.

Opening in September 2018, the school is committed to creating an educational environment that makes the most of a world-class campus, combines the best of Chinese and western educational approaches to learning and delivers first-class pastoral support.

When did you get into international education and why?

After qualifying as a teacher in Tasmania, I then traveled to Europe with sport, to cycle competitively in Belgium. Later, after teaching back in Australia for 10 years, I decided I wanted to travel more which led me to the UK and then to Italy. Working in international education is very different to the national education system and has a lot of positive benefits for teachers. This could come in the form of great salary packages or career development. One of the biggest draws for me personally was the stability that comes with working for an international school group. International schools have the autonomy to create their own educational policies whilst carrying out a bespoke mission and values specific to that establishment. By and large this should remain unaffected by political or governmental change within the country you’re teaching in. 

How long have you been in China and what brought you here?

I moved to China in January 2018 and I moved specifically for the Dipont & Nanwai King’s College School project. The opportunity to be involved with a school start-up from conception to launch was a great career move on a personal level, but also one that was very attractive in terms of the vision for the school itself. The idea for the school was what grabbed me at first and it just happened to be located in China. Since I have been here, the country - and particularly the people - have amazed me. 

What attracted you to come to China to help head up Nanwai King's launch?

The opportunity to be involved in a start-up school with such well known and established partners in Nanwai and King’s was what got my attention. Having real input towards the educational design of a new school and working with Dipont, on what is a new direction for them, was also a big pull. I was excited to be a part of the first school to put bilingual and international students side-by-side from K-12 in classes and on campus. Our partner schools have such great reputations and history that I knew it would be a well – and our operations are being handled by very experienced and professional leaders. It looked like - and has proven to be - a great learning experience and a real challenge each and every day.

What makes King’s College School different – and why does it stand out against other schools?

The reputation that KCS has is well deserved. I visited the school in Wimbledon, UK last January and will be returning in May of this year. Their approach to education and of helping students become well rounded individuals, while still managing to excel at academics, is a model that we are proud to be applying at Nanwai King’s. Their assistance in helping with our set up and providing future opportunities to our students will be invaluable in establishing our school as one of the best in China.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in opening the school and finding the right staff?

Everything! As a team, the Senior Leadership Team have been meeting via video conference since February 2017. Applying your skills and experience to what is a completely new country and culture for me, has been a challenge, but our team is very well balanced, and everyone brings different skills. Finding the right balance of highly qualified and experienced staff, committed to our co-curricular program, who also have the skills, enthusiasm and flexibility to work in a start-up school, is quite a big list of essential requirements.

What qualities were you looking for in your potential staff during the hiring process?

I went through the process myself of being selected and hired for the school, so I’m very familiar with what was required as a member of staff. As mentioned before, this is a start-up school that means we were looking for some very specific qualities. Passion - our teachers are all required to provide co-curricular classes whether that be through sport, cultural activities or any other new skills outside of the academic classroom. We wanted our staff to offer our students the most wholesome and well–rounded educational experience and that takes teachers who are passionate about developing their pupils across the board. Flexibility – we needed staff that would be prepared to support and give input in new structures and be understanding of the need for potential adjustments as the new structures are put into place. Adaptability – we were looking to create a team of international educators which meant we were looking at hiring teachers from around the globe. China is a unique country and we needed people who would be able to settle in and acclimatize with ease and efficiency. Also, an ability to adapt to changes in how the school structure and policies had been created where necessary for the benefit of the school and students. Emotional Intelligence - candidates who displayed strong “people” person skills were also high on our desired list. Bringing together large teams of people to work with parents, students and members of staff requires team spirit, patience and understanding. Embarking on a new project takes a lot of effort to get off the ground we needed people who could be supportive of each other and the mission.

How do you see international education in China progressing over the next five to ten years and how do you think Nanwai King’s embraces/embodies/contributes to that?

Preparing students with a well-rounded education that first and foremost makes them better global citizens, also makes them more attractive as applicants to foreign universities. Nanwai King’s College School Is committed to supporting students with a strong pastoral program and helping them to push their own limits though our co-curricular program. Foreign universities already look for these attributes in potential students and as our program builds over the next 5 to 10 years, local and locally based international parents will see that only concentrating on exam results will not be enough to guarantee their child can succeed at university and in the workplace of the 21st century.

What would you say to potential educators considering China as their next move? What makes it a positive career move? What advice would you give?

Do it. China is an amazing place with a huge desire to innovate and excel. China wants to be at the forefront of global business in the future and the way to make this happen is through education. There are a lot of opportunities in education here in China, but my advice would be to research the school well and make sure the program that is being offered is of a world-class standard and the school is aligned with reputable local and international partners. That way overseas hired staff can make the biggest difference to the students they are teaching and make the most of the vast opportunities that are on offer in China today.

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