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Bangkok Faces: Jon Standen, Head Master, Harrow International School Bangkok

Your Name: Jon Standen

Job Title: Head Master, Harrow International School Bangkok

What is your nationality?

I’m British.

How did you become a teacher?

After studying Ancient History and History at university, I did various jobs, but I kept coming home and thinking to myself, am I really enjoying this? And then the bigger question, What do I enjoy?

History fascinates me. I read History at university and I thought maybe I can inspire others with my passion for History, maybe I could be a teacher and that led to me moving into teaching.

I became principally a History teacher but also taught Government and Politics at A Level. I also taught Latin from time to time.  Latin’s great for critical thinking but, as it is a ‘dead language’, its uses today are limited – I’m not sure if I will be introducing Latin at Harrow Bangkok!

I then moved on to leadership positions; I started as a head of history then a head of humanities faculty and then I moved up to be an assistant head, gaining pastoral experience to add to the academic experience I’d learned in middle leadership. Then I had a deputy headship and finally headships. 

This is my third headship; first was of a selective state grammar school in England, the second an independent school. There, three quarters of the students were day students, one quarter boarders and it was also a very strong swimming and aquatics school. Now I’m Head Master of Harrow Bangkok, one of the greatest schools in the world. I’m loving bringing all my skills and experiences together to help benefit the children and the parents there.

Even though I’m Head Master, I appreciate that I am still a teacher and whilst I might not be educating children in classes I’m teaching in other ways. My role is educating all the adults in the school and helping them to be the best that they can be, just as they help sons and daughters to be the best that they can be.

How does your role enhance the wellbeing or experience of children?

The critical role of all heads is that you have to believe and ensure that your school adds value. You add value academically – good grades are life-enhancing by opening doors to universities and interviews – but at the same time you want to develop life skills, the sorts of skills that the World Economic Forum talks about: complex problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision-making, service orientation, negotiation and cognitive flexibility. So it’s really important that the curriculum also focuses on these skills because, to quote the famous Latin phrase, ‘scholæ sed vitæ discimus’ – we do not learn for school, but for life. See there is still a place for Latin!

Academic education is about passing exams but heads also want their schools to inculcate a lifelong love of learning and give people the critical thinking skills that they’re going to need whichever profession they end up in.

There are also the personal values and qualities which great schools like Harrow Bangkok offers through its holistic education: the Leadership in Action (extracurricular) provision, sports, creative arts, expert visitor talks and school trips. I think these experiences allow children to develop those personal skills and values that turn interviews into offers, the skills that make leaders who are also team players. It’s my role to ensure the curriculum incorporates opportunities for all these experiences.

Fundamentally though, a happy child is a successful child. If students are happy at school, if they look forward to their day when they wake up, then they’re going to be successful. So the final key aspect of my role is ensuring that the children feel safe and happy and look forward to school and make lifelong friendships.

What challenges do you face in this role?

My greatest challenge is recruiting and then retaining the very best teachers since we are 6,000 miles away from the UK, thousands of miles from South Africa, Australia and other sources of great teachers.

We have to make sure the overall package we offer our teachers is world-class. We are a leading school, with over twenty years of quality education, who place a priority on teaching and learning and I want teachers to be convinced about how much they will benefit from their time and experience here.

Then, when they’re here, I want to make it as hard as possible for teachers to leave! Naturally they will eventually leave but my challenge is to retain good teachers for an average six years.

What do you hope to achieve within your industry?

If you view every school as being on a journey, that journey never quite reaches a destination but, being a great school, Harrow Bangkok is very close to its final destination.

I want to keep on improving. Maintain the already world-class standards but where there are any opportunities, to tweak and improve to ensure that everything in our provision is consistently world-class.

Who or what inspires you?

My mum and dad were my first inspiration as parents are your first teachers. Someone who I admired when growing up in Britain in the 1980s was the ‘Marmite character’ (you either love her or hate her!), UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. What I admired about her was she had her convictions and beliefs which she stood by, which is something often lacking in Western democracies today. Another inspiration in my life is English football manager Neil Warnock, who actually became a parent at my last UK school. There’s much to admire about Neil: his work ethic, his sense of humour and his ability to get the very best out of his players and put them together as a team.

Only a Bangkok local would know…

I’ve barely scratched the surface of what Bangkok has to offer so far (I’ve only been here a few months!). But so far I have enjoyed ‘popping’ to Hua Hin for the weekend with friends and family – it’s only a few hours from Harrow Bangkok by car. And in Bangkok itself the variety of restaurants on offer is breathtaking. I’ve really enjoyed Na Aroon Sukhumvit Soi 1 – fantastic food, lovely location. My wife and I are looking forward to discovering more of Southeast Asia.

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