Susan Walter Headteacher
After many successful years in business, where my biggest learning was in the field of team building and management, I invested in my passion for education and in 2001 went back to University, gaining a First Class Honours degree in Primary Education with Music and QTS. I am currently Head of Primary at Discovery Bay International School (DBIS) in Hong Kong.
At the EARCOS Leadership Conference in October 2013 in Bangkok, my thirst for new ideas and innovations led me to George Couros‘ session on Creating A Digital Footprint. My takeaways from this session were that as educators we should be out there online, like our students, taking ownership of our digital footprints, and that we must not treat good ideas, experience and knowledge ‘as power’ but rather share them.
With the wide availability of cheap blogging tools on the internet I had no excuse, and I therefore wrote my first blog, Reflection on Learning. I then added my conference presentations and my reflections on the books I was reading, and before I knew it I had built a website containing my most current focus areas and the resources I was using.
Current Focus Areas
On entering education as an adult, I rediscovered how much I love to learn and have continued to seek out new learning opportunities, particularly where I can take a ‘Do As I Do’ approach. In the last few years I have qualified as a Royal Yacht Association (RYA) Day Skipper, passed my Grade 3 piano, started learning to play the saxophone, joined a community choir and in October 2018 completed the training to become a facilitator for the Institute of Education NPQML and NPQSL courses.
Our students get one shot!
I believe that schools need to be focussed on one thing – learning.
As a school leader, everything I do has to come back to one question – how does it impact on learning? If our ideas do not improve learning opportunities and outcomes for our students, then they are not the right ideas. If our actions do not fully support learning, then we need to change them. If the activities we arrange, fun as they may be, do not positively improve learning, then again, we need to stop doing them in order to focus on doing more of the things that do positively impact on learning.
Why? Because our students get one shot in our care. They arrive in our classes in August (or September) and we have great ideas about exciting learning opportunities to offer them, but before we know it, we are writing year end reports, talking about next steps and wishing them well in their next form or year group. We just can’t afford to get to the end of the year and only then reflect on all the things we didn’t quite get around to doing. We have to remember that everything we do today has to count. It has to make a difference.
Our students deserve our very best. Every day!
Student Wellbeing & Experiential Learning
I believe passionately that schools are about so much more than academic outcomes. We have a duty to support all students to become more resilient, to feel more connected with the people all around them, locally and across the world, and to aim higher with their own aspirations for their future.
We all know that students in our schools generally act upon what we do rather than what we say, so it’s a far better learning experience for them if we are seen to actively take advantage of opportunities when the future becomes the present. We need to remain flexible and open to change, and new ideas that perhaps are not yet obvious, if we are to continue to ensure that our students get the best opportunity to be ready for their futures.
Experiential learning is key to student success. Giving students the opportunity to learn outside the classroom, on school trips and residential camps, service visits and community visits. Experiential learning can also happen daily as students learn alongside peers who have may have learning needs different than their own, who bring a different perspective and approach to our everyday thinking. Creating relevant, real life and challenging learning opportunities in the world in which our students live is such an important part of what we do.
Our students need to learn and recognise the excitement of learning. Appreciate how their efforts and hard work, their commitment to working through the challenges, have been an important and enjoyable part of their learning journey, rather than focussing all on the end result.
I believe that leadership is a relationship; a relationship that builds capacity when done well. I have spent many years focussing on personally improving as a leader, whilst constantly exploring the boundaries of how deeply and widely leaders can be empowered within our school community.
I started my career in the world of business, and rather than wish I had entered the teaching profession earlier, I realise that this previous experience has actually made me a better school leader than I might otherwise have been. I have brought the grounding I received in business into my life in education and now partially attribute it to the accelerated trajectory I have taken. I appreciate now how much I have benefitted from many of these previously developed skills, which were not then commonly recognised as essential to teaching.
I still strive every day to look for ways in which I can turn common sense into common practice.
My Latest Blog: A Headteacher’s Wonderings; Two Years in at DBIS
My latest blog is a reflection on my last 2 years as Head of Primary at Discovery Bay International School in Hong Kong. It looks at what I have learned and the importance of really getting to know and understand a school’s culture.
From my very first day as Head of Primary, I was truly excited about my role. My enthusiasm was genuine, and so seeing the positives was easy for me. I just had to project that to the rest of the teaching team at DBIS and the wider school community. Well, that was two years ago, and what I have not addressed from my initial wonderings yet, is what I have learned.
Full blog HERE
Dream Team: I wondered how we would work together to better engage our students
I was extremely lucky when I joined DBIS, as I was joining an already established and hugely committed team of professionals who were incredibly positive and supportive. My leadership team understood the school culture, the school history and the personal histories that made up our school community, and they enthusiastically shared this with me.
Across all the teams within the school, there were leaders, some new, and others who had worked their way up over many years, learning, developing and growing. From class teacher to Deputy Head in 10 years, from one of the founding three members of the school 35 years ago, to Office Manager, and from primary pupil to Primary Teacher and primary pupil to Educational Assistant. These were colleagues leading by example with their approach to growing professionally, actively seeking out, and putting into practice, new and exciting approaches to learning and teaching and demanding feedback on their own performance and how to improve. Building trust with my new team, and doing so quickly was imperative in order to maximise on our opportunity to work together. Patrick Lencioni has taught me a lot about great functioning teams, and I was extremely mindful of his reasoning that:
‘When everyone is focussed on results and using those to define success, it is difficult for ego to get out of hand… No matter how good an individual on the team might be feeling about his or her situation, if the team loses, everyone loses.’
So, with this as my starting point. By focussing on promoting positive emotions, and by developing trust, I found we were able to reflect early on everything that was already being done extremely well in the school, and build on these strengths to improve, rather than focus initially on those areas that perhaps needed more attention.
Full blog HERE
My Latest Conference
21CL Conference website summary of Susan Walter’s presentation “Using Data To Support Pupil Well Being“
Outside school I enjoy cooking, playing music, reading, entertaining, and spending time with my husband and son. As a family, we love to have fun sailing, swimming, and exploring.
I believe passionately in education; making learning relevant, challenging and exciting for all learners, and in many ways follow the mantra of Dr. Seuss’s Cat In The Hat:
*Picture Credit Mzayat Cliparts