Educator brings wealth of global experience

Sep 28, 2014

HAVING worked in education for over 20 years, including 13 years as the head of various schools, 46-year-old Briton John Todd now works at Dulwich College Suzhou, an international school in Suzhou Industrial Park.

Todd had served in the British Royal Navy for four years but his life changed when he was forced to end his naval career due to a knee injury at the age of 21.

During the last year of college he considered a career in teaching as he liked children. He began his new life path in a UK prep school in 1991.

He enjoyed and felt he was good at it.

“It gave me the opportunity to make a difference. It gave me the opportunity to work with young people, and just I enjoyed it,” Todd told Shanghai Daily.

Most of his education career occurred outside of the UK. In 1996, he moved to the United World College of Southeast Asia in Singapore, where he was instrumental in setting up an elementary school. He then spent two years in Kenya as a junior school head before moving to become head of School and director of Education at Greensprings School Lagos in Nigeria. During his five years in Lagos, student numbers more than doubled and a second site was built and opened. Todd then moved to Doha, Qatar, in 2007 to become head of Compass International School. He oversaw rapid growth at the school from one campus with 65 students to three campuses with more than 850 students.

He and his wife, Vicki, came to Suzhou in 2012. She teaches English at Dulwich and their three daughters, Christiana, 10, Isabella, eight, and Gabriella, five, all go to Dulwich. Their two dogs round out the family.

Todd said he decided to work for Dulwich College Suzhou as he needed change and a new challenge after five years in the Middle East.

“I had never heard of Suzhou before, but I wanted to try something new and Dulwich is an iconic brand. So that was a great attraction for me to work here,” he recalled.

When he arrived in Suzhou two years ago, he was impressed by the beauty of the cherry blossoms in the gardens. Meanwhile, he was satisfied the school had good resources and was organized, while the students were very well behaved.

Dulwich College Suzhou, now with more than 950 students from 40 countries and regions aged between two and 18, opened in August 2007 in partnership with Dulwich College London, a British school with nearly 400 years of history. The school’s teachings are based on the National Curriculum of England, the General Certificate of Secondary Education, and the IB Diploma Program. Its students usually enroll at top universities around the world after graduation.

Todd said he believes it is important for Suzhou to have a school like Dulwich as the number of foreigners in the city is growing and it provides their children with opportunities for an international education. He said it’s reassuring that local authorities are very supportive of the school.

“The SIP administration always helps us. We have worked with visa officials, tax officials, immigration officials and other people. We have very positive relationships,” he said.

“We could point out a lot of things where we have challenges here, but I see what we need to do is to keep working with local authorities to work things out.

We don’t have any real big problems right now,” Todd added.

This year alone, Todd has recruited 25 expatriate teachers.

“With clear rules of applying for working visas and paperwork preparation, it took less than one month to bring each of them into China. The SIP administration is efficient and we have never experienced any delays,” he said, adding he had heard many other schools and companies in the area praised the government for its efficiency.

Todd was also happy when he found Dulwich had great relationships with several local schools. He further enhanced cooperation by working on a number of projects. For example, Dulwich students and teachers have visited local schools to experience Chinese education methods and help Chinese students with their English. Also, Chinese students and teachers have been invited to Dulwich to see how classes are conducted and help foreign students with Chinese, a compulsory course at Dulwich.

After spending two-and-a-half years at Dulwich College Suzhou, Todd developed a learning focused philosophy that places equal emphasis on intellectual and personal development. To that end, the school not only requires academic performance, but also participation in its plentiful extracurricular activities, including sports, music, art and drama.

He also helped open a new senior school campus and boarding house last year. Student enrollment has gone from 750 to more than 950 since he joined the school.

Todd said he is also proud of an air filtering system that was installed. It includes every classroom, the gym, libraries, aquatics center and dining halls. The school invested 3 million yuan (US$488,000) on the computer-controlled system over the summer and 1.5 million on portable air purification machines in January, he said.

“It’s expensive, but it’s worth it for our children’s health,” he said.

As head master, Todd is busy watching over the running of the school and recruiting new teachers, but he also makes the time to meet parents frequently.

“For expatriates, school is often the center of their community life and so we want families to feel happy in our school and have many opportunities to participate in different events,” he said.

Some parents are now so familiar with him that they would call him directly or write emails when they have something to discuss.

He said he is also keen to take part in charity activities. He had visited a school for children of migrant workers and presented them schoolbags and stationery items. He also, along with Dulwich students’ parents, donated 100,000 yuan to a two-year-old local girl who was diagnosed with leukemia.

Though having lived in Suzhou over two years, Todd said his family had not had enough time to see the city thoroughly as they are always busy with the kids after work.

“We try and have some family time, but the children are very busy with sports programs. My older two girls swim in the elite swim squad and they also attend figure skating lessons in Shanghai four days each week,” he said.

But he said they don’t plan on leaving anytime soon, which gives them more time to explore the city. “I will at least spend another two or three years here. I hope to have a long-term career with Dulwich and have been offered many opportunities for personal and professional development,” he said.

“And more importantly,” Todd added, “there are loads of opportunities for my children to participate in school programs and all three of them love their school here.”

About the Column

Suzhou Face

This series focuses on individuals who have lived in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province for a while and have a tale that’s worth telling. Age, gender, nationality and race are all unimportant in comparison with what adventures the subject has been up to, the experiences they can recount.

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