We speak to Mr. Shawn Hutchinson, ACG School Jakarta’s principal who has over two decades of experience as an educator. Prior to his post in Jakarta, he held senior leadership positions in schools in New Zealand, China, Vietnam, Japan, and Australia. He also holds a masters degree in special education.
Tell us a little about yourself – about your background, your career and inspiration to be in the education industry?
I was born and raised in Adelaide, Australia. My early experiences in the education industry were as a High School English teacher in both public and private schools before quickly moving into leadership roles. I was 30 years old when I first took up the role of principal in a high school in Tokyo, where I worked for six years.
After that, I started to work under the ACG brand and my first ever involvement was in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam as the Head of Secondary School of ACG International School Vietnam –now known as Australian International School of Saigon.
My entire family valued education as a crucial tool to better oneself and so they had a lot to do with me being involved in the education industry. My greatest influence and role model, however, is my father. He was always compassionate and involved in our local community to help educate children. He would also foster children who needed care, so often times you would see other children at our home. He was also a big part of the Overseas Children Association, and this led to adopting two younger siblings from Sri Lanka. My other inspiration was my English teacher who helped me develop my love for reading and education.
How has your leadership style evolved over the years?
I believe there are two types of educators – educators who complain about things and educators who create change. Over time I have learned to be a leader that helps people to create change and this often involves leading through my actions. I started off with an idealistic leadership mindset. I saw the world through rose-tinted glasses and felt like I could make changes quickly but obviously, with time and experience, you realise it is not that easy.
Leadership style is also based on your context and whether you are leading a new or established school. While both situations offer their fair share of challenges, leading a new school is obviously easier because it is a blank canvas – you can move quickly, set policies and build a culture much quicker and seamlessly compared to an established school, where you spend more time unraveling and straightening old matters out before setting a new direction.
I also believe that being a good leader is about creating and maintaining a sustainable work environment through healthy relationships and proper communication with everyone involved in the workplace – from teachers, staff, students as well as parents.
Being a father of two teenage daughters – 16 and 14 years old – has also influenced my leadership style because now I get to see the school through the eyes of a parent as well as the head.
With over two decades of experience around the world and based on your experiences, can you tell us how’s the education culture here in Indonesia different as compared to the Western world?
I can’t really comment on the education system in Indonesia because I have always worked in international schools, which are dominated by a Western approach to learning. But what I can comment on – based on my experiences working in Asia – is that the Western approach is more individualised, whereas the Asian approach is more collective.
And if we’re talking about character or moral education, I believe that there are strong elements of understanding citizenship, respect and demonstrating positive behaviours in the way we interact with others in the East. I feel like the West, for whatever reason, has sort of lost that in their approach to education. So what I try to do is create a blend of East and West approaches in both philosophy and practice because I believe that aside from making sure our students excel in their education, our responsibility is also to help young student develop into good people.
Can you share with us your vision for ACG School Jakarta?
We want to be the school of choice for providing high quality teaching and learning standards with an emphasis on academic performances in literacy, numeracy, languages, creative arts, technology, critical thinking and problem solving.
We also want to provide a platform for students to be able to excel in certain areas of interest, especially in the creative arts. For example, we have just put in a new music studio, radio station, recording studio, a design technology space, and much more. We also want them to be more involved in education outside a classroom such as through camps, outreach programs, connections with students from our Inspired Education global network of over 51 schools in other countries and also short- or long-term exchange programs.
Not only do we want students to improve their results, we want them to be well prepared to head to university and face life’s challenges. Our hope is to encourage students to become creative, problem solvers, entrepreneurs and innovators.
Tell us about your typical day here.
I don’t have a typical day. A part of my role is to continuously work with students and the faculty to improve all aspects of the school so I don’t have a typical day and I don’t want to just sit around and feel content with where we are – so I spend my days always searching for areas that need improvement.
My role is campus wide – I work with the administration, marketing, enrollment, personnel, health and safety, and so much more. Ultimately, I am responsible for the quality of teaching and improving student learning outcomes. When I make decisions, I don’t do it based on whether it will benefit the school but more on whether it will help improve student learning.
You have travelled around the world, where is your favourite place and why?
Well, I would say I love going home. And the funny part is I have two homes; one is where I am from, and second is Tokyo, where my wife is from. So we always make the effort to split our time between both homes. I love my time in Adelaide because we have a little beach house there, while in Japan I really love going to Okinawa.
What do you like to do to during your free time?
I really love spending time with my wife and daughters during my free time. We really love food so we enjoy going out and just eating.
By: Divyha Pridhnani-Bhojwani