As the 2021-2022 school year comes to a close, reorganizations in the school’s leadership structure are already being planned for next year.
Many teachers are adopting new administrative roles, and, with this change, introductions for them—for new and old students alike—are warranted. Meet the current AISB teachers who are stepping into leadership, with commentary from Peter Welch, the director who is leaving in a year, and Viktor Novakovski, outlining the rationale behind the structural changes in the administration.
Mr. Sota: New Athletics And Activities Director
Growing up in the United States from Romanian immigrant parents, Alexandru Sota was hesitant to join any competitive sports, fearing he would seem out of place. Yet watching his TV, Mr. Sota found himself fascinated by the tricks and techniques basketball players would use to outsmart and outplay the competition, earning respect from others and themselves.
Tired of simply observing, Mr. Sota began practicing basketball with a small inflatable ball on a trapezoidal window extension on the side of his apartment, trying to replicate the basketball skills he had seen.
“It was only when I was thirteen that I decided to join the school basketball team,” Mr. Sota says. With his love of complex, clever skills, he adds, “I found myself to be a very creative player, but it also backfired often because I had never played in a competitive setting and didn’t follow the procedures.”
In any case, Mr. Sota loved his time playing basketball—he made some of his best friends and grew as a teammate and person playing the sport.
After moving houses, he also had access to a street with a proper basketball hoop for the first time, which he would practice on almost daily until he left the area. “When we left I had a harder time saying goodbye to my basketball hoop than to the house I lived in… the house was easy to leave in comparison,” Mr. Sota remembers.
Mr. Sota would go on to work his first teaching-related job as an after school and summer camp instructor at a middle school in the US before gradually making his way to being an assistant teacher at AISB, followed by an elementary school PE teacher, the current co-curricular activities coordinator, and, next year, the athletics and activities director.
As CCA coordinator, Sota has enjoyed increasing the diversity and frequency of activities for elementary and early learning students in particular, with the facilitation of activities for secondary students being covered more by the athletics and activities director.
In this role, he tries to foster the idea that “it’s not uncool to be on your school’s team, it’s not uncool to play a sport, it’s not uncool to wear a uniform” from the very beginning, giving students the opportunity to pursue passions and “develop their imaginations.”
Moving to his new position, Sota is excited to work with local and international colleagues at CEESA to develop a shared vision and make competitions more accessible with the decrease of Covid-19 as well as “to make the school’s sports program more aligned across all grade levels, so students can perform their best in their final years in high school.”
Mr. Hughes: New Secondary Vice Principal
While David Hughes enjoys watching and playing almost all sports, his favourite sport, and the one he played most competitively in his childhood and adolescence, was cricket. Now, having shifted his focus away from cricket, Mr. Hughes enjoys a South American sport called “padel,” which he describes as being similar to “squash over a net.”
Mr. Hughes’ childhood also intersected with great academic inspiration, particularly in his fifth grade classroom. He recalls being taught by a teacher named Mr. Piers, who Mr. Hughes remembers “always went out of his way to make learning fun and engaging.”
Mr. Piers did this by always incorporating practical aspects or analogies of the things they were learning. For example, when teaching his class how much faster the speed of light is compared to the speed of sound, Mr. Piers divided the students into groups and had each group go to the end of a straight, flat road. “Then the other group would clap loudly and none of us thought there would be anything unusual but we were all amazed when we could see the clap before we could hear it.” The students then used stopwatches and distance measurements to derive approximate values of these speeds for themselves.
Moments like this were what inspired Mr. Hughes to pursue a career in the education field. Starting in a similar domain to Mr. Piers, Mr. Hughes was initially an elementary school PE teacher before gradually taking on more administrative roles.
“I find this professional growth really important to me; it’s a challenge that spurs me to become a better educator by overseeing a curriculum at a broader level.”
Right now at AISB, Mr. Hughes occupies the job Mr. Sota is stepping into: the athletics and activities director. Working closely with Mr. Sota, Mr. Hughes manages the co-curricular activities for secondary school, their respective CEESA and international correspondences, and many student councils.
“From a practical perspective, this means I go on many CEESA trips, organize a large part of the hosting for CEESA students prior to Covid, and try to communicate potential logistical errors to my colleagues [in other schools],” he explains.
Over the course of his seven years at the school, Mr. Hughes has also helped greatly expand the student council options available to secondary students, recalling that “initially there were only two councils: lower and upper secondary STUCO—and now I think there’s ten or eleven.”
As he takes on the lower secondary vice principalship, Mr. Hughes is hoping to add even more opportunities to this pool—both in co-curricular activities and in the academic experiences that shaped who he is today.
“I really want people to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible and just come along for the ride and have a great time,” he says, adding that “I’m so excited to be working with so many awesome new colleagues to create the best education experience possible for our students.”
Ms. Kempe: New MYP Coordinator
Like Mr. Hughes, Ms. Melanie Kempe was relatively sure she wanted to enter the education field in some form after college. Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and English with a minor in history, Ms. Kempe went on to pursue a master’s in education.
Upon acquiring her qualifications, Ms. Kempe took up teaching on the international stage. Over the sixteen years of her career, she has worked in six countries, at six different international schools. Throughout these jobs, Ms. Kempe has primarily taught English, saying that “I personally enjoy English and the way that the language and words we use shapes the world around us more than the humanities, and I feel very lucky to have been able to teach it.”
Leading up to joining AISB, Ms. Kempe was working in Vienna and previously Nigeria as curriculum director, so she “knew [she] wanted to look for a similar position here eventually.”
Ms. Kempe is currently completing her first year as an English teacher at AISB, teaching three MYP and two DP language and literature classes. In these classes, she teaches students to analyze and produce literature, but also more non-traditional non-literary texts, such as opinion-editorials, political cartoons, and book reviews, which constitute the “language” aspect of the “language and literature” courses.
Next year, she will become MYP Coordinator, replacing Mr. Pontius, who is leaving to go to Côte d’Ivoire. Having already visited with many of the departments for the different disciplines in the MYP, Ms. Kempe wants to make sure everything that is being taught builds logically on itself and prepares students for the DP.
“The great thing about the MYP is that, unlike many other curricula, the content is not directly prescribed… instead, learning outcomes are prescribed, and schools come up with the content they think best meets those learning outcomes. This provides a great opportunity for teachers to teach what is most important and streamlined across grades,” says Ms. Kempe.
Another thing Ms. Kempe would like to develop in her upcoming role is concept-based learning. Concept-based learning is the acquisition of knowledge in broad contexts based on an idea or skill, rather than specific concepts based on isolated procedures or facts. Teaching in this way is widely considered more effective than other approaches, primarily due to the increased transferability of concepts allowing students to solve problems in unfamiliar situations, which they are likely to encounter in the “real world.”
“I’m really excited to work on implementing [concept-based learning] with other departments… that’s another one of the reasons I’ve been meeting with other [departments], to understand what concepts are being taught and what concepts we could add,” Ms. Kempe says.
In her spare time, Ms. Kempe enjoys reading by the fire, hiking in the mountains—describing the hills as her “happy place”—as well as spending time with her children and playing basketball, hoping to be able to help coach one of the school teams next year.
But regardless of whether they like basketball or other sports, and regardless of what subject they like, Ms. Kempe wants students and staff to know that “they belong” and that she will work to foster that.
“I would consider belonging to be one of my core values,” Ms. Kempe says. “I don’t think it’s possible to work together successfully when people don’t feel like they belong.”
Mr. Novakovski: (Same) Secondary Principal And Rationale For Having Two Vice Principals
Despite diverging from the loose theme of this article (not for the last time), Mr. Viktor Novakovski could be relatively unknown to many students, as he joined the school in August 2020 in the midst of the pandemic lockdowns. Even so, while he might may be a stranger to some, he’s certainly no stranger to teaching.
Although Mr. Novakovski was most recently the director of Nova International Schools in his home country of Macedonia for the five years before joining AISB, he first started teaching in 1999.
Graduating from university in the US with a business major and minor in psychology and political science, Mr. Novakovski was prompted to leave the States and return to Macedonia due to the outbreak of political conflicts in relation to neighboring Kosovo. There, he felt he could support the community by teaching psychology, despite limited formal education accreditation.
“Suddenly I was teaching and I realized I found those interactions very fulfilling,” he reflects. “I realized that was what I wanted to do.”
After teaching for a few more years, this time economics as well as psychology, Mr. Novakovski took a two-year sabbatical to get his education credentials, earning a combined education and leadership in education degree.
When he returned to teaching, Mr. Novakovski gradually started taking leadership roles as well. For him, leadership was almost an unconscious process; it was not as much about competition as it was rising to the occasion of a school need. “I wouldn’t call it a career choice because at the time it was my duty to volunteer for the roles… Back then I’m not even sure I wanted other or bigger leadership roles in the future,” he says.
A large part of Novakovski’s desire to lead would, in his words, come from “a team of highly professional people who loved their jobs empowering me to work at and consider [such] positions.”
Today, Mr. Novakovski tries to embody this attitude and professionalism in his current role as secondary principal. He facilitates many transitions such as students going from PYP (elementary school) to MYP (secondary school), MYP to DP (the final and distinctly most difficult two years of the IB program), and DP to colleges. He also works with a variety of teachers and other coordinators to parse out curricula and advisory programs, helps develop the yearly schedule, and makes a myriad of decisions attempting to balance Covid-19 risk reduction and optimal learning. “I try to view all my tasks through the prism of accommodation,” he explains.
In his description, Mr. Novakovski also presented the rationale behind having two separate vice principals. Currently, Mr. White is the vice principal for grades six to twelve, but next year there will be one vice principal for lower secondary covering grades six to eight (Mr. Hughes), and another vice principal for upper secondary, covering grades nine to twelve (a new addition to AISB, Mr. Russell Croft).
“Even though a single person could cover both segments, we believe it is optimal if two separate people take on the role of vice principal because, while there is a great deal of overlap between the two groups, there is also a great deal of difference and we believe this model yields the most tailored, authentic learning experiences possible,” says Mr. Novakovski.
Despite his past decade of leadership, Mr. Novakovski tries never to lose sight of the students he is trying to aid. Much like his experience with his favourite sport, tennis (a sport he hopes to be able to coach), Mr. Novakovski hopes that reigning in archetypal “competitiveness” is not frowned upon. “My favourite sport is tennis, but the same is true for all of the sports I like… I’m trying to balance enjoying it and improving and being competitive—winning.”
Likewise he says, “Since I came here I’ve stepped down… I’ve gone from director in my old school to principal [here], but I think that’s okay… I even would like to see if I can teach one class next year… I like teaching, that’s where my entire career came from, I don’t want to ignore that.”
Mr. Welch: Director Leaving At The End Of Next Year
Like Mr. Novakovski, much of Peter Welch’s position has been masked by the pandemic. Having joined the school in 2019 and leaving near the end of 2023, Mr. Welch’s time at AISB has unfortunately coincided with distance learning.
When Mr. Welch started his career in England teaching history and English, he never thought he would have to face a pandemic, much less direct a school during one.
But even now, after years of lockdowns and masks and social distancing, he continues to unwaveringly describe teaching as an “enormous privilege.” For him, this privilege comes from the ability to positively impact the generations that will shape the future of the world.
“I find this incredibly meaningful,” says Mr. Welch. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t take for granted the fact that we can change people’s lives.”
Mr. Welch moved to Singapore for his first international teaching job. The final two years in Singapore would mark his first leadership role, where he became head of the humanities department.
And while he enjoyed the leadership position, much like Mr. Novakovski, he didn’t actively seek it out. “In a lot of my earlier years, it was just luck,” he says. “The previous leader got promoted, so I replaced them.”
In time, Mr. Welch came to enjoy the roles, saying, “I think I have an ability to see the bigger picture that’s useful in leadership.”
By the time Mr. Welch came to AISB, he had already been a school director in Istanbul, in Helsinki, and in Chiang Mai; but this experience was nonetheless quite different from his previous directorships. “The job I thought I was going to do—developing the curriculum and student-teacher relationships—is more something my colleague, Ms. Rachel Caldwell, will be doing… she is the next director,” he explains.
Due to the pandemic, Mr. Welch’s job has been more focused on “crisis management”— making decisions that balanced government regulations and general pressure towards reducing the spread of Covid-19 with the opposite pressure of optimizing learning and parental complaints about the ineffectiveness of distance learning.
More recently, he has had to resolve similarly sudden problems arising due to the war in Ukraine, which has involved extensively corresponding with ambassadors, other schools, and refugees themselves to see how AISB can best support those uprooted by the crisis.
Elaborating, Mr. Welch gestures to a black fixed phone on his desk: “That could ring one hundred times in a day and each time it could be a different person with a different problem.”
When Mr. Welch first arrived to the school, he was focused on changing the school’s vision from “engage|prepare|inspire” to “creative|courageous|compassionate.” This process was long, with multiple revisions, and started by asking AISB staff members: “What is the purpose of the school?”
From there, he says, “We started to see a rather widespread consensus that the school was, fundamentally more about preparing people for the world than providing them with knowledge. This isn’t to say the academics aren’t important, but that they have a bigger purpose.”
The attributes that were decided to be the most important in a changing world were creativity, courage, and compassion. In Mr. Welch’s words, creativity is “the capacity for innovative thought,” courage is “the ability to do what is scary or unfamiliar,” and compassion is “empathy plus kindness.”
Ultimately, while Mr. Welch enjoys the ability to impact the next generation in these ways, he is “quite looking forward to putting down these responsibilities” and to “hand that phone… to someone else.”
In fact, one of the occupations Mr. Welch is considering after leaving AISB is developing a support network for directors. “It’s a very stressful job,” he says, “and I’d like to support other people through mentoring and possibly other means.”
As for what he’d like to leave students with: “The world you’re going into is something you know more about than I do and that many other people with ‘authority’ do, so don’t be afraid to try new things and don’t be embarrassed to hold yourself back.” He adds, “I’m a great optimist about the capacity of people to do what was never thought possible.”
Incredible Vision Alignment Among The Leadership Team
When asked the question, “What are your goals for your role?“, all of the staff had almost the exact same key visions:
Mr. Sota: “Obviously I would like to be prudent; it’s going to take me about a year to make sure everything’s running smoothly… but then I would like to make sure that we can cater to everyone and that we’re guiding students to perform better as they get older. Previously, we were relying entirely on coaches’ programs and now we’d like to have coaches initiate a certain program so everything leads into itself.”
Mr. Hughes: “I think the pandemic had an incredibly detrimental effect on the availability of activities. Right now everything’s all over the place… What I’d like to do is get back to that point where there was a path for everyone instead of everything being completely scattered.”
Ms. Kempe: “Right now I’m very familiar with the curriculum structure for English, but I think it’s going to take me a full year until I understand [this] for all of the other subjects. At that point, I want to see what we can add and remove to make sure students learn everything progressively… so making sure we’re not doing the same thing in grade eight and grade nine, for example.”
Mr. Novakovski: “I’m going to be working to give students new opportunities as the pandemic subsidies. I don’t want any student to feel like they’re a burden, which is one of the reasons we’re splitting up the vice principal load… recognizing that students have different needs at different ages. At the same time, there’s also an overlap and I’m going to be working across the secondary school to accommodate both the differences and overlap across the school.”
Mr. Welch: “Dr. Brindley did a great job of developing the campus… In the future, I’m hoping we can better develop all of the relationships between teachers and students… to really figure out why we’re doing this and what is the best way possible to achieve that goal. Like I said, in the pandemic there’s been a lot of crisis management that’s made it hard to do that; I’m hoping I can work on that more next year and so can Ms. Caldwell.”
This vision alignment is likely to indicate the already positive working relationships teachers are striving for. Let’s see how it unfolds.