An Interview with Garden International School’s Head of Secondary: Dr Nicola Mason

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An Interview with Garden International School's Head of Secondary Dr Nicola Mason

The Expat Group’s Marybeth Ramey caught up with Dr Nicola Mason and discussed her new role as Head of Secondary, the rewards and challenges of leadership, and what motivates her as an educator.

The Expat: Nicola, you joined the faculty at Garden International School five years ago as the Head of Science, then was appointed Deputy Head of Curriculum. Prior to teaching you completed a PhD and postdoctoral research at Imperial College of Medicine, London; what drove the
change from scientific research to teaching?

Dr Mason: I enjoyed research enormously and was very fortunate to work with some leading medics and scientists in the field of Pathology and heart disease. I felt that after completing my first postdoctoral project that I really wanted to put something back into the community and
decided to train as a teacher; I haven’t looked back since!

You’ve progressed in your career since training to teach. What drives you with such motivation? Perhaps you could give our readers a short summary of what you feel are the qualities you possess that have made you the highly successful professional you are today?

Throughout my teaching career, I have been determined to make an impact on student learning, whether as a classroom teacher or as a leader. Making a difference to students, ensuring that they progress and develop into effective young adults is what really motivates me. Moving into leadership, this has extended to a desire to ensure that every teacher makes excellent progress; at GIS we always say that when a teacher leaves they will be a better teacher than when they started with us. What drives me is an interesting question and one that I’m not sure of the answer beyond the students and teachers in my care – when we struggle to make decisions as a team, we always ask, “What will make the most impact on the learners?” I would never describe myself as ambitious, but determined to do the best that I can. Teaching and leadership are not careers for the fainthearted, and I would say that as with every teacher I possess resilience. As a leader, I also feel that humility is an important quality to have; the ability to reflect, admit mistakes, and change how you approach things next time will take any leader a long way.

You have taken over the leadership of GIS Secondary after years of strong leadership from Graham Wilson. How do you envision the future for GIS?

During his nine years at Garden International School, Graham led significant changes in the secondary school, and his leadership style was always one that involved building teams and capacity. I had the privilege of working with him on various initiatives such as the development of the GIS Learner Skills and the redesign of the assessment and reporting procedures. The future of GIS is one in which we continue to work together as a community, where we use our student, staff, and parent voices effectively to continue to move us forward. The Student Vision is highly prominent in everything that we do, and embedding systems to ensure that our students are developing into confident and effective young adults who can take their place as leaders in the global community continues to drive our development. For instance, a big development for us this year has been the growth and continued success of our Student Leadership Programme, with students throughout the school taking the lead on whole school areas for development, such as Community Service. Moving forward, as a school we are continuing to develop ways to recognise and celebrate success at both the student and staff level; it has been great to hear the positive comments from parents so far this year.

Can you share a few of your signature teaching methods or favourite ways you have to get your points across to your students.

Being in the classroom still remains a highlight of my week; I enjoy working with students of all ages and last academic year enjoyed teaching both a year 7 science class and an A-Level Biology group. It’s great to see the students develop – the students who I first taught in year 7 are now in year 12; many are now student leaders and it is great to see the fantastic progress they have made in becoming amazing young adults. As with all teachers at GIS, I believe in engaging students actively in their learning – getting them involved in solving scientific problems by investigation is one of my favourite strategies.


Do you have a story that illuminates the ethos of GIS, or perhaps an instance in which the faculty and students have all come together?

GIS is an amazing community of teachers, students and parents. One of the biggest moments for me was during ‘Discovery Week’, our community service-focused week, where our students either take part in overseas trips or work with our partner refugee centres. The community spirit during this week was amazing; our students led activities to ensure that the visiting children had a fantastic experience.

Read This: An Interview with Roger Schultz from The Alice Smith School

Source: The Expat Magazine December 2014

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