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New Co-Principal Has Big Plans

September, 2008
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IMG_6803  It was raining outside when I had a talk with Mr. Christopher Connellan, the new Western Co-Principal of Yew Chung International School of Shanghai (YCIS), Pudong, at his office on YCIS Century Park campus.

  “It is my first time in Shanghai, China and on this side of the world,” said Connellan, adding that he is just getting used to the rain after having been here over one month.

  “I worked in Bahrain in the Middle East for six years; it was very hot most of the year, and no rain.”

  Connellan is from South Africa, and he lived on the east coast of the country, where the weather is quite tropical and similar to Shanghai: it is humid in the summer and mild in the winter.

  Well, it is not the weather or rain that has brought him to Yew Chung or Shanghai.

  “I’ve been interested in the Far East for a long time, and especially in Chinese culture. Obviously, it is a very good time to come and see China now,” said the principal. The other reason is that he heard so much about Chinese children as well as Asian children who are so motivated to learn. “I think it would be very nice to be in a school where the learning culture is so strong.”

  Before YCIS Shanghai, Connellan had served for over 14 years in school managerial positions on the international scene, including his most recent posting at Naseem International School in Bahrain. That was his second tour of duty in the Middle East, having also been Director at The International School of Chouefat in Doha. They were both large schools compared with Yew Chung Pudong, which includes three separate campuses and a total of around 700 students.

  “I like small schools because you get to know the students,” he said.

  “I did quite a lot of teaching in the past two years before because I was the director of studies and I wanted to be in the classroom. My main subjects were Biology and Science. It was nice to be back in the classroom again, working with the students more closely.”

  Having been teaching for 32 years now, Connellan said the fun and challenging thing about being a teacher is “that you are a very important part of the students’ lives, and you can make a difference to what they do, and it is very rewarding when you help them accomplish something or enjoy the school.”

  Interestingly, the veteran teacher said everybody likes a hard-working super-star student, but he has got a lot of time for the naughty kids.

  “I enjoy changing a naughty child and getting him to be part of the school,” he said.

  Teaching is truly a great career to Connellan, though it wasn’t the career he started in.IMG_6787

  “When I went to university, I wasn’t going to be a teacher, I wanted to be a marine biologist,” he said. Before going to university, Connellan actually was training dolphins, doing performances and doing research on them. He knew he couldn’t go very far in this field so he decided to get a degree at university. “As I didn’t have money to pay for my university, I took a loan from the educational department. Instead of paying my loan, the department let me teach. And I felt I enjoyed teaching…”

  Being the principal at Yew Chung gives Connellan the opportunity of working with a Chinese partner, as the school runs a Co-Principal system.

  “It is different from what I used to do, like just making decisions myself. But this is also good because two heads are better than one,” said the western principal. “Of course, we together make fewer mistakes and fewer problems.”

  For the new school year, one of his main “decisions” in the school is to try to get the enjoyment of learning to happen. That means to get the students excited about coming to school and staying at school.

  “If you can get the right things at school, students will love to be here longer. Everybody in the school should be excited.”

  Intellectual curiosity is the other thing the principal wants to bring into the school, as he realized that Asian students are very quiet, they are all working very hard but no one asks questions or challenges the teacher. “‘Intellectual Curiosity’ is that they (students) ask questions about things not necessarily learned in the classroom but other things they are interested in, such as global warming and population explosion,” he explained. “The students and teachers can discuss it in class.”

  The school curriculum and different approaches of teaching are also taken into consideration, according to Connellan. A new curriculum will be drawn up to bring in teaching across all the subjects. For example, the History and English and Chinese and Math will all be covering one topic.

  “We are going to concentrate on the uniforms and manners so as to get the students to be better equipped for life in future,” the principal added.

  YCIS Pudong hasn’t undertaken the International Baccalaureate (IB) programs yet. Connellan said this might happen in 2 to 3 years’ time. He hopes that his experience and expertise in this area will benefit the school too.

  “To me, IB is really an international curriculum. It fits in any culture and country in the world because it doesn’t have a syllabus or any content. It prepares communication skills, research skills, debating skills, writing, thinking and more. These are the skills needed when a student goes to a university in China or s/he goes to a university in the USA. IB is concentrating more on developing skills rather than on developing a subject matter. I think IB prepares you better for the future and it prepares you to be a global citizen or an independent person.”

  These are all challenging as well as interesting, as they all connect with the children, Connellan concluded, “ It is a very responsible job!”

  Words for the new students: Make the most of your school days because it benefits the rest of your life!

  To the teachers: Try to make your classroom an exciting place.

By Xing Yangjian

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