Head of Art and Design Technology
Richard joins us this year as the new Head of Art and DT for his first experience of international teaching after more than 13 years working in schools in London. Having settled into Shanghai, the College and his department during these initial weeks of the academic year, Richard is looking forward to bringing future plans for art and DT at Wellington to life.
Deciding to come to Wellington
While I went to university in Bangor, North Wales, I absolutely loved living and working in London once I made the move there. I'd always had an idea in the back of my mind that I wanted to experience international teaching but for one reason or another I felt the need to stay.
With an eye on potential international schools to apply for, I was looking for somewhere that was sufficiently well established and fit with my personal philosophy of teaching. Wellington's holistic education approach and its reputation for letting teachers take ownership of their teaching appeal to me greatly. The link with the founding UK Wellington College is real and tangible, so I knew that it was the 'real deal'. I was also extremely impressed that a still relatively young school was reliably turning out such amazing grades each year.
Putting this all together, I knew a couple of years ago that I wanted to come here. So when I missed my first chance to apply for the job, (due to the pressing needs of coursework season!) I thought that it was a genuinely great opportunity missed. However, when the job popped up again, I took that as a sign and knew I had to go for it. If these past weeks have shown me anything, it's that my instincts were right.
Early impressions and settling in
Wellington UK is well known for being a forward thinking and highly progressive school, so it's been heartening to see that the Shanghai College operates in that same spirit. I was told repeatedly that the Wellington ethos is about exposing our pupils to new ideas, new opportunities to test and improve themselves and new ways to learn. The uniformly excellent state of the resources across the art and DT department immediately showed me that this claim is backed up with solid investment.
Of course, every subject needs good resources but with art and DT it is even more essential for getting the very best from both the teachers and the pupils. The more you have to work with, the more you can unlock pupils’ potential by guiding them to the tools and materials that excite and interest them most. If you want to take pupils beyond the theory and let them get truly 'hands on' with the subject, there's no getting around the fact that it requires investment, something that Wellington clearly understands and plans for.
I've had a great first weeks settling in. To be honest, I keep waiting for the catch but it never comes! I'm convinced now that there isn't one. Each day is busy, bustling and exciting, which is how I like it. I like the energy of the department and the people who bring it to life. I like talking to my extremely talented team. I like how straightforward and pragmatic things are here. Everything that works and deserves to exist, exists; anything that doesn't work or isn't necessary, goes. It's a very refreshing way to work and I really think it brings out the best in everyone.
Getting to know the pupils
From the very first lesson, I've seen how Wellingtonians are invariably punctual, polite, well presented, respectful, diligent and, crucially, they always turn up ready to learn and work hard. As someone who is new to the international side of teaching, what has struck me the most is the high maturity levels of the pupils, even those in the lower years. This is not that surprising, given the College's reputation and the well-known benefits of international teaching when it's delivered right, but it's great to see in person.
I'm really enjoying to get to know the pupils and I can't wait to see what truly excites them and brings out the very best of their talents. Coursework season is upon us, so they don't have a choice – it's time to shine!
Getting to know the teachers
I'm equally enjoying getting to know my team of teachers and technicians. We have two big and very different departments combined into one. They are linked but distinct enough for both art and DT teachers to feel like they can do what's best for their subject and their pupils. This is great for sharing ideas and skills, which is happening regularly. I feel like I'm learning from my team on a daily basis.
It helps that there is a fantastic mix of backgrounds, skills and perspectives among the team. We have international school veterans and newcomers, as well as a range of artistic passions and influences. This is great for the pupils, as they are exposed to plenty of different ideas and approaches, but it also helps us become better, more rounded teachers. The team are a joy to work with and I'm excited to see what we can achieve together.
While it's still early days for me at Wellington and I'm focusing on getting the basics in place, already I can see the incredible potential of what we have here. Currently, the team and I are considering different approaches for redesigning and expanding the department spaces, such as creating wholly new workshops and implementing well-resourced design make-spaces where pupils can tackle almost any project with everything to hand. Then, once we have everything in place, we can look at more 'future proofing', activities around 3D design, robotics and advanced STEM-based activities of a more technological nature.
Of course, we want our pupils to be highly skilled at both ends of the technology spectrum. Technology skills are essential in the digital age, but our pupils also need to have the fundamentals down as well. Without the more traditional skills of physically measuring, cutting, drawing, shaping and so on, you cannot truly appreciate how something works in the real world. James Dyson, inventor of the very impressive range of Cyclone bagless vacuum cleaners, is a great example of this. He was an engineer by trade, so he intrinsically understood the nature of the vacuums he was designing and building. Admittedly, his company's latest models have the most advanced computer design tools and 3D printers available, but they still needed several hundred prototypes to make their product the best it could be, and that process of painstakingly crafting and revising the end product was only possible because Dyson and his team knew how it should work in the real world. Computers are invaluable aids in the digital age, but they can't do everything!
By perfecting this combination of skills and approaches from the very traditional to the ultra-modern, from tools used literally for millennia as well as advanced computer programmes, pupils are prepared for anything and are limited by nothing. When you combine these approaches, that's when wonderful things happen.
Wellington College can be one of the best places in Shanghai, if not China, to study art and DT. We want to offer the very best experience for each Wellingtonian and that means being able to tap into their creativity and enthusiasm for their subjects. I look forward to making this happen each school day.