This month our Bangkok Faces feature introduces Donnah Ciempka, the new Head of School at Ascot International School.
What is Your Nationality & Background?
I am Australian but have lived internationally for many years. My family and I started our expat journey in Seoul, Korea and then moved on to Beijing, China. I adored Beijing, however, after 5 years we moved back to Australia to Melbourne in 2013. Our eldest children finished their education in Melbourne and it was time to explore this glorious world again. Having always dreamed of living in Bangkok, when the opportunity to be Head of School at Ascot presented itself, I was delighted. To find an International Baccalaureate school that is focused on community located in one of my favourite places, I felt like my dreams had come true.
What is Your Profession
I started my teaching career as an Early Childhood educator teaching the lower years of primary. I had always dreamed of becoming a kindergarten teacher just like my aunt. Over the years, I taught a variety of age levels and subjects, but one thing remained constant, it was within an International Baccalaureate school. For me it is the framework and commitment to an inclusive socially just learning approach that deeply connects to my own philosophy. Now as Head of School at Ascot, I have the privileged to seeing students enter our school at 2 years of age, and graduate Year 13 and knowledgeable, capable global citizens.
What Are The Key Skills & Responsibilities of this Role?
My role is varied and changes every day, which is why I love it. Officially I oversee the running of the school at Ascot, however, for me, I see it more as growing a community. The decisions I make, the conversations I have are around what we do to ensure our students have the best schooling experience we can provide. I once explained my role to a Year 1 class that I am a teacher of teachers. I work with our staff so they can be wonderful teachers.
How did you get Involved in Your Profession?
As a child I remember playing teachers on the blackboard in the garage, so perhaps it was meant to be? I loved being in the classroom and I do miss the interaction with children each day. Being a part of their lives is so rewarding. In relation to administration and leadership, it really was a natural progression for me. As my experience grew as a classroom teacher, I was encouraged to take on more responsibility and as someone who relishes a challenge, I have embraced the opportunities. A few years ago I considered returning to the class room as the
practice of teaching has changed and I believe that leaders must have currency their profession. A mentor of mine advised me against it, she said, “you help more children as a leader of a school than in a classroom.” I greatly appreciated those words.
How Does Your Role Enhance the Wellbeing or Experience of Children?
Everything that happens in a school should place the child at the centre of the decision making process. We must ask ourselves, “is this what is best for the children?” Our business is education, and whilst our parents pay our fees, our clients are the children. They are the ones who come to school each day and so they must be at the centre of our decisions. We know that if we are tired, or sad, hungry or worried, nothing really matters, and this is the same for our students. You can’t educate the brain without educating the hearts and the hands. So for me it is all encompassing. Providing our students with a safe, nurturing, inclusive, positive, innovating and academically challenging environment is the way we grow capable and adaptable people.
What Challenges Do You Face in This Role?
I think that my greatest challenge is similar for all educators right now and that is the juggling act that COVID brings. Whilst we can deliver a high standard of learning online, it is the social interactions that we miss. Seeing our students smiling faces, hearing their laughter is the part that sustains us. Finding that balance of returning to school, ensuring student safety and maintaining rich learning for all, can be a challenge.
What Do You Hope to Achieve Within Your Industry?
To create and grow a community with a heart for service. I believe that to be an educator is one to the greatest privileges. Education is the only industry where every other profession begins. The opportunity to ensure out students are part of a rich, warm and inclusive community is something I hope to achieve. This doesn’t just happen. It comes from a community of people encourage and pushing children to be their best. It comes from the promotion of critical thinking and creating learners who know themselves as learners and can see their strengths and challenges as just part of the process rather than being what defines them. It is providing an environment that praises the journey, the thinking and the ability to problem solve whilst feel safe and supported to take risks and be who you are. If we get those pieces right, imagine the change our graduates will make.
What or who Inspires You?
I’m an avid reader and so I have a long list of inspirations. One person I keep coming back to Maya Angelou. Her words have lifted me up many times.
Only a Bangkok Local Would Know…
I don’t think I am a Bangkok local yet but something that I embraced since moving to Bangkok and the opportunities for service. There are so many wonderful organisations that give back. I have found the Adoptable Puppy Café – on Facebook does the most amazing work. They rescue Soi dogs, rehabilitate them and find their forever homes. This organisation does amazing work. Bangkok is a place where you can give back.
Find an organisation you can support.