David Smith – Head of School Interview

David Smith has been Head of School at LIS since 2014 and has had a career in education across the globe.
Tell us a little about what brought you to teaching?
I had really inspiring teachers in my last two years at school and they started a very lazy boy really thinking seriously about the world. That experience was repeated at University of York, where I studied Literature and History. I wanted to be involved in passing on the delight in learning that I had been given by some very good teachers.

What brought you to leadership in education?
Something of a happy accident. I got my first job out of England looking to learn Spanish in Argentina. When I got there the school was looking for someone to replace the head of English. I got a taste for trying to bring reconciliation and progress in that position. A few years later I got my first big headship job in Montevideo.

Where have you worked in the world?
England, Argentina, Columbia, Uruguay, Portugal and after my last job I wanted something completely different and that brought me to Leipzig.

What attracted you to LIS?
I was looking for a change and was always interested in Germany. I had only been as a tourist. When I saw the job in Leipzig, a city that had been out of bounds for my early adult life, I was very excited. As a classical music fan the place was also resonant for me. When I did come for the interview I fell in love with the school and the city and was very eager for the position.

What is your role as Head of School?
I have responsibility for a frightening number of things but part of good leadership is effective delegation and so a lot of the day to day business is handled by good people. I have to liaise with our Commercial Director to make sure the school is financially sound but basically I am in charge of every aspect of the academic programme and the well-being of our students.

Who is your team?
We have so many highly skilled, highly trained adults on board. Everyone from admin to principals is my team and are incredibly professional. There is of course a leadership team and it consists of myself, Thomas Pessara (Commercial Director). Dr Niven (Head of HR) and the three section principals, Kjersti Nichols in Kindergarten, Tim Belfield in Primary and Neil Allen in Secondary. We meet weekly to discuss the development and running of the school.

Could you define your leadership style?
I like to think it’s a quiet conversational, gentle style without big displays of ego. Having said that I am always very certain of what I want and what I am doing.
I hope it’s a style that promotes most fervently what we want for the adults and students at the school which is that your work is a pleasure and a means of helping you grow. Not a burden that you pick up on Monday and drop with relief on Friday.

Would you say that is your attitude toward this job?
Emphatically yes!

What are some of the biggest challenges in your job?
The challenge for any private school that doesn’t have a huge fortune at its disposal is to make sure you can offer an experience to the student that really is high quality and at a price that is reasonable. That is especially a challenge when you are in countries like Germany where there is a functioning state education system free of charge.

Why should parents send their kids to LIS?
Because of the warmth and closeness we have here between students and teachers.
Because this is a school with an exciting, modern, interesting programme and we are constantly thinking of ways to improve and develop it.
Because you will meet people from every conceivable background.
Because we constantly enrich our academic offering with cultural and sporting opportunities.

What makes a good teacher?
You’re going to get an old fashioned answer. I think a good teacher is deeply knowledgeable about his or her subject and wants more than anything else to have the student share the pleasure that he or she has had in that subject. A teacher should have many and varied ways of expressing and communicating that interest in the classroom.

Would you say LIS models good leadership for their students?
Leadership is more a question of making sure the skills and responsibilities are shared and everyone who has something to offer gets to offer it. We certainly do the same with the students. I believe that if you are confident in what you know as a teacher then there are few occasions when you will have to raise your voice or punish. Of course we have some traditional forms of sanction but on the whole if you speak to any of our graduates they will say that they were encouraged and accompanied, not pushed and shouted at. That, to me, is modelling effective leadership.

What are you most proud of at LIS?
The way the older students, with whom I work closely every year, approach all the challenges here and the way the younger students are visibly and happily laying the foundations for the rest of their education, is something that makes me proud. I am lucky to have spent the last five years here.

What are some of the most difficult decisions to make?
Decisions about staffing are difficult. For example, interviewing three people only to find that they are all excellent and then choosing just one, knowing that this will have a powerful impact on the school, is a large responsibility.
The longer a head is at a school the more responsible they really are for what is going on because an increasing number of people were hired on their watch. The quality of the students’ lives is absolutely determined by the quality of the adults we put in front of them.

What are some of the highlights you’ve had at LIS?
Our theatre and musical productions are always a delight. Let me be honest and say I’m always thrilled when academic examination results go well. Of course, they are not the be all and end all but if we do them, we try to do them well. The same applies to our sports teams. I enjoy watching them because they want to win. It’s not true that you are just there to take part, the idea is to do well.

What is your vision for the future?
We would like to have the opportunity to have a better IB menu for our students. There are more young people out there in Leipzig who have a good grasp of English and who could benefit from doing the IB years here.
I hope we continue to seize the opportunities before us to make the school better for our students. Of course it’s important to think long term but we have students here today who are facing this year, this exam now and we have to make sure they are having the best experience we can offer them now, with the resources, we have now.

Read our other Leadership Intereviews:

LIS Board Interview

Thomas Pessara – Commercial Director Interview

Kjersti Nichols – Primary Principal Interview

Tim Belfield – Primary Principal Interview

Neil Allen – Secondary Principal Interview

David Smith – Head of School Interview

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