Meet Heather Rhodes, Principal of Harrow School Online
Updated: Jul 1, 2021
When the pandemic hit over a year ago, education was about to be disrupted in more ways than one. Ahead of the curve, Harrow Online was already up and ready to go, watching as the world of education began to fall apart. Here we talk to Heather Rhodes, Principal of Harrow School Online, about how they found themselves in pole position to tackle the ups and downs of Covid disruption and how education will not be the same for a while yet...
What led you into the education sector?
When I left graduated from university I decided to take a year out in Thailand to teach before I made any firm career choices. Every moment there seemed magical – the country, the people, the adventures – but what I loved most was teaching. Taking students on a journey to learn a new skill, and seeing their progress and sense of achievement has never stopped being a source of pleasure and pride for me.
What three things do you feel you need to be a successful educator?
Firstly, you need to love what you’re teaching, and have a genuine passion for your subject. If you’re not excited by it, why should your students be? Secondly, you need to love learning. Great educators are life-long learners, who can model good learning to their students and understand the challenges involved in learning, and are always keen to learn new ways of teaching. Thirdly you need to genuinely care about your students, and want to understand and relate to them. Ultimately that personal connection is what changes a class into a community of learning.
What is your personal motto in life?
This isn’t so much a motto as a quotation, but the Van Gogh quote, ‘If you love nature, you will see beauty everywhere’ has always very much resonated with me. It reminds me that it’s not what you see but your perception of what you see that is important, and that even when things feel difficult, we are all surrounded by beauty, if only we look for it.
Tell us about the re cent launch of Harrow School Online and how this idea came about?
Harrow School Online was founded prior to the pandemic, with the idea of reaching out to students across the world interested in a top British education. We wanted to create a community of learners that spanned continents and serve those students who are better suited to learning online than in a physical classroom. We are working to the same academic ambitions and targets as our parent School, Harrow School, but our online mode of delivery widens access to high-quality British education and allows for a more flexible and individualised learning experience. With the pandemic, we’ve additionally been catering to pupils who want an undisrupted education without the risk of exposure to Covid-19 for them or their families.
Harrow School Online has timed it perfectly in the world of disrupted education, providing a stable platform for its students. Can you tell us more about your provision and the benefits of online learning.
Our pedagogical approach is a little different to a physical school, and has been designed to make the most of the advantages of online education. We use a ‘flipped classroom’ teaching methodology, which involves students working through interactive self-study materials to develop an understanding of subject content, and then having a lesson in a virtual classroom where teachers explore their understanding of that material and get them to apply and extend their knowledge.
Using self-study materials allows students to learn content independently at a time and pace that suits them, but with regular taught lessons - in small classes of up to ten students - to check and support that learning. Those lessons target areas of challenge from the self-study work, and are discussion-based interactive lessons, full of group work, pair work and the chance for questions and extension work. Our approach to learning frees up time for our teacher to give individual support. Teachers hold daily ‘office hours’, where students can make 1:1 appointments to clear up any questions or gaps in understanding. As you can see, this provides a far more individualised and flexible learning experience.
Mental health and well being of students is a key priority in all schools, particularly now. How does Harrow School Online provide for the pastoral care of its students?
The well-being of our pupils is of paramount importance to us, and we know how important the support of a positive school community is now more than ever. We have a house system at Harrow School Online which provides a focal point for our students, bringing them together in regular meetings to collaborate and compete. Our House Tutors meet 1:1 with each student on a fortnightly basis to talk through how they are getting on, both academically and in terms of their wellbeing. Pupils also have the support of a Success Coach, a coach who works with our pupils to help them formulate plans for the future and overcome any barriers to achieving those plans, including those related to their mental health and well-being. Our Success Coach leads a Study Skills and Mindset course, helping our pupils develop resilience, and looking amongst other things at life purpose, self-knowledge and self-care.
What is the best advice you would give one of your new school joiners?
We’ve got a huge range of clubs, societies and extra-curricular opportunities, and I advise all our new school joiners to try out as many opportunities as they can, from taking an elective in Stockbroking and Investment to joining the debate club or computer programming society. They’re a great way of developing new skills and making new friends, and help our pupils integrate into the school community.
What is your all-time favourite book?
The book that’s probably had the biggest impact on my behaviour is ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman. I loved being taken on a journey through thought processes, down to the minute detail of how we form opinions, make decisions and recall memories. It made me consider and evaluate my own thought process, and be more aware of where bias might creep in and how to optimise my decision making.
Top three apps on your phone?
My top app has to be WhatsApp, which is my main way of keeping in touch with friends and family all over the world. A close second is Spotify, which I love because of the range of playlists you can stream, from Dominican bachata to Sunday morning jazz. A guilty pleasure is Instagram, which can be a visual treat and reminds me of the joys of travelling while I’m stuck at home during the pandemic.
Your greatest achievement?
Without a doubt, founding Harrow School Online. I’m incredibly proud of building a school community that spans continents and unites students through their love of learning. Seeing our pupils thrive in their online learning and reach out to each other to build firm friendships and support networks makes all the hard work feel worthwhile.
Can you give us a heads up about any future plans in the pipeline?
When we launched Harrow School Online we always said we’d like to roll down to GCSEs once our sixth form was well established. We have so many requests for provision for younger years, and future plans are very likely to include development of GCSE courses alongside our A level provision.
Harrow School Online brings together the richness and heritage of Harrow School education with leading online learning technology and teaching practices. They are a fully online global sixth form, offering an A Level education to girls and boys aged 16-18. Specifically designed for effective full-time online learning. To find out more information visit www.harrowschoolonline.org or contact admissions here.