John Todd

John Todd, the new Headmaster at Dulwich College Suzhou, has worked in international schools for 17 years including 11 years as a Head. He began his career in a UK prep school before moving to UWCSEA in Singapore where he was instrumental in setting up the Elementary School there. 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, school numbers more than doubled and the second site was built and opened. John then moved to Doha, Qatar as Head of Compass International School to oversee the growth of the school from one campus of 65 students to 3 campuses with a total of more than 850 students. John comes to Suzhou with his wife, Vicki, who will be teaching EAL in the Senior School, and three children, Christiana aged 8, Isabella aged 6 and Gabriella aged 3. Two dogs make up the family group! Dulwich College Suzhou student David Smith for How long have you been in education? I have been in education for 22 years, and I am saying to my children I am only 24 years old. I’ve been a school leader now for 17 years. Before that I was actually 4 years in the navy and then went into teaching. DS: Where were you last serving as headmaster? Before here I was head of school in Compass International School in Doha, Qatar. It’s now famous as the host country for the 2022 world cup and it is, by GDP per capita, the richest country in the world. Prior to that I was in Lagos, Nigeria for six years; Nairobi, Kenya for two years and Singapore for three years. My first teaching job was in a boy’s prep school in England, and I was there for five years. So I did once work in England but I’ve been abroad now for 17 years. DS: When did you decide that you wanted to go into teaching? Hard to say. I always said that I would never go into teaching, I guess probably my last year of college. I was an officer in the Royal Navy. They were paying me to go to college. I had a knee injury and I became a war pensioner at the age of 21, and teaching seemed like it might be a good idea. There wasn’t lots of planning or thinking; it just seemed like a good idea. DS: What was it that eventually made you change your mind about teaching? I liked doing it. I guess I felt I 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. It was also the fact that it wasn’t just about teaching in the class room. I did a lot of things with sports. My first school had a huge table tennis club - 100 plus boys in it. I used to work with rock climbing and mountaineering programmes as well as Canoeing. And when we went to Singapore similar sorts of things. I used to run junior school rugby, football, big outward bounds expedition every year. It was also the academic side [that attracted me to teaching], as well as the extra-curricular programme. And I think in international teaching, the opportunities to travel. DS: So, when you chose Dulwich Suzhou what appealed to you the most? Well it was definitely the prestige. And if I am totally honest, I had, like many people I guess, never heard of Suzhou before. I had heard of Shanghai. I had been to Beijing. The first year we were in Singapore, I went on a trip, and we did the Trans-Siberian Express. So I’ve been to Beijing, but Suzhou, I’d never heard of it. Which sounds awful, but I’d heard of Dulwich, I had colleagues who had worked in Dulwich College Beijing and Shanghai. DS: What plans do you have for Dulwich College Suzhou? I think, first of all, it’s important to say, it’s a great school. I’ve seen lots of great things already. Fantastic staff, very happy and committed group of students. Everyone seems really positive. So it’s great to come into a school where everything’s already organised, and it’s already quite big. So the last school I’ve worked in was only sixty-five children [when I started], and when I left it was nearly 900, so it’s nice to come into a school that’s already set up. What I’m planning to do in Dulwich? First of all, I think it’s very important to listen, to try and find out what’s going on, what people think, what parents feel, what students feel, what the staff feel. What’s also very important is to reflect on what the school’s about. So important to me always is “what’s the vision, the mission of the school?” and the school has a set of guiding statements, and – you’ll see those going up in every classroom, the guiding statements – because everything in the school has to focus on the guiding statements. Every activity we do at school, we have to say “Is it appropriate, in the terms of our guiding statements? How does it affect the learning of the students?” If we’re doing programs that don’t improve learning, we shouldn’t be doing them. We should look and ask how does it affect learning? And one thing I’m very passionate about, I guess is making sure good learning is happening in every classroom. I like spending a few weeks going into class rooms, looking at what learning is happening, trying to get an idea of the effectiveness and quality of learning and what is going on in school. We’ve got our first year of Year 13 IB so I want to spend some time with the IB students, making sure we’re giving them every possible opportunity and that they’re working hard enough and that they are quite serious. They have got to work extremely hard if they are going to achieve the grades of which they are capable. DS: What advice would you give anyone trying to get into teaching? I think, with everything happening in the world these days, people are trying to get into teaching. You have to go into teaching because you are passionate about giving young people the opportunity to learn, and to grow, and to change and develop. It’s important that you understand the level of commitment. People think that teachers don’t get long holidays, but actually they spend half their holidays preparing for the next term. Parents don’t believe that, but it’s true. It’s important that teaching is seen as a vocation, as something that people have a desire to make a change – a positive change – in the world, and that’s something that only teachers can do. And you have those signs that say “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” But I do believe that teachers, if they have high aspirations, if they dream, can make a difference to young people. And if we’re not forcing you to think, forcing you to solve problems, then the issues like, global warming, the environmental problems that we have, world poverty, you guys have got to solve that. We had our chance, and blown it. So as teachers, we have a vital role to play in giving young people the opportunity to think about all these kind of things. DS: So what advice would you give for IB students? Work hard, and then do some more, but also make sure you have some kind of balance in your life. I think that the best students fit in with one of our guiding statements, which is about “educating the whole child”. It is important, not just to do well in your academics, but also have the opportunity to do things like sports, the opportunity to do service for other people, which is of course part of the IB diploma. When you go to apply for college, they don’t just look for A grades, or sevens in your IB score. They’re looking to see were you part of a club, were you part of the United Nations, the football team, the hockey team. So what I can say to students is ‘yes the academics are the most important thing, but there are so many other ways that can make you a well-rounded person.' DS: How do you intend to improve the academic life of students? It’s a difficult question in a way, because I think, if you look at the research, it’s not the headmaster, it’s the teacher. So my job is to ensure that we recruit the very best professionals that we can. Then make sure that we have the organisation to offer the best programmes in the classroom. And as a school, we set high standards from the very beginning. I think that’s very much already there. I’ve been speaking in classrooms today, and I’ve been saying ‘you do have to work very hard’.