Meet Roisin Paul, High School Principal of St Joseph's Institution International
Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Can you tell us about your journey to SJI International?
I am originally from Northern Ireland but aged 18 I left to go to university in London to study a BA in History and Religious Studies. Coming from quite a segregated society in NI, where I went to Catholic schools, and then moving to somewhere as multicultural as London just opened up a completely different world for me. I fell in love with learning about different religions and cultures and I very much felt that this was what I wanted to do, to teach in multicultural schools. I wanted to make sure that other young people growing up in a very mixed society actually understood each other because a lot of prejudice and discrimination comes from a place of ignorance or lack of understanding and education.
So, I spent the next 8 years as a religious education teacher in London and then had the opportunity to move back to NI to start an integrated school, bringing Catholics and Protestants and people of other faiths together. I felt this was my way of giving back to the society I grew up in. I spent four years back there and then returned to England and worked my way up from assistant headteacher to CEO of a multi-academy trust in Sheffield.
I had always had a burning desire to teach in international education and last year the opportunity came up at SJI International and it just ticked every box for us as a family so here we are!
What drew you to SJI International in particular?
It’s a very high achieving school, the results are outstanding but what drew me to it was the Lasallian ethos of service and values which permeates every aspect of school life. I’ve worked in many schools, but I’ve never worked in a school that has such a strong sense of purpose and such a strong sense of identity and community and I just love that. Yes, we have a really strong academic side of our curriculum and our students go on to achieve incredibly high results, but we also place as much emphasis on our outdoor education, our co-curricular and CCA programme.
We have a superbly talented team of staff, they are specialists in their fields and I was astounded at how dedicated and committed they were. Primarily though, they love working with young people and that comes across in everything they do, they go that extra mile every step of the way.
I asked myself ‘is this a school that I would want my children to be educated in?’ and the answer was ‘absolutely, 100%’, so if I want my children to be educated here then I know that other parents will too. It’s really more a case of not ‘why did we join SJII’ but ‘why would we not’.
Who or what has influenced you in your work in education?
There are two people who really influenced my career. The first was my teacher, Tommy McMahon, he embodied the whole idea of service. He gave his life to teaching, youth groups, drama groups, the choir, trips…he did absolutely everything for us and was a pure inspiration for me.
The other is Ian Gage. He was the Headteacher when I became a deputy and then he mentored me when I took up my first headship. I love developing people and he is that type of person as well, it was all about how can I develop you? To this day we are really good friends and I still phone him for advice.
Can you tell us more about the school's difference as a local international school in Singapore?
Yes, I love that we are truly an international Singaporean school or Singaporean international school. Over 50% of our students in Grade 7 come from the local system and we really welcome that, because learning happens both ways. Our Singaporean students help us understand the local context, culture and traditions; what it means to be Singaporean regardless of faith and religion. There is a real sense of belonging and caring about Singapore as a result. In return, we bring a lot to our Singaporean families and community. We are teaching our students how to be independent, how to self-reflect, how to develop those skills which come down from the IB curriculum.
We also have a very international curriculum and this global aspect is reflected so all our students also learn more about what happens outside of Singapore and on the global stage.
How do you create a one-school experience through the separate Elementary and High School?
What bonds our schools together is our mission statement, which includes ‘to learn how to learn and to learn how to live’. Both schools share the same values and ideals and as we move forward we are looking at how we create more consistency and continuity in the experience. Some of the areas we are looking at include our character education. In the Elementary school they have a wonderful virtues programme so we are currently developing a programme in High School that will connect really well into that.
We’ve got the continuity of CASS, our Community, Activity, Sport & Service programme, that runs through both schools and we have curriculum areas which also link in nicely, for example, Spanish is now taught in Elementary School and on through to High School.
Catherine Nicol, our Elementary School Principal, and I are now looking at the future of curriculum planning. If we take our end goal of the IB approach and learner profile and feed that down into the Elementary School, how are we building up those skills from a very early age. They are already happening in the Elementary School but are we using the same language and terminology as students move into High School? We want to work more closely together to ensure more continuity across the two schools.
I have a child in both Elementary and High School. It’s the first time that my own children have been in the same school as me and they bridge both schools. So now as both Principal and a parent at the school, I have a 360-degree view of it which is fascinating. It’s been really helpful!
What for you has been the biggest challenge since joining the school?
Covid! I was here a matter of months before the pandemic hit and we just went into crisis management point which went really well but we had to put all other plans on hold and deal with the here and now. Holding back on some of the development work has been really challenging and disappointing but all the emphasis needed to be on making sure exam groups are well cared for, making sure that all staff and student wellbeing is looked after.
Trying to establish myself as a new Principal during a year of Covid and complete restrictions has also been really challenging. It’s really difficult for parents to get to know me and me to get to know them. I’m working on ways to get myself out there more but it’s frustrating not to have had the opportunity to do this yet properly.
What’s been your best or favourite moment since joining?
I’ve had loads but how staff and students have responded during Covid will live with me forever. As a new member of staff, as a new family in Singapore, just the warmth and the kindness that was shown to us as a family coming into that situation was tremendous.
And looking at how our staff looked after each other at that time. They really went out of their way to put on different events, online quizzes, buying hampers for each other, just having a chat. They have really looked out for each other. Students too. It’s had such a huge lasting impression on me.
Tell us about three things on your work desk
I’ve a little guardian angel which my friends brought me when I was leaving Sheffield and which sits in front of me every day; vitamins and my JBL speaker. I walk into school in the morning and have a shower and put my music on full blast to rev me up for the day!
If you could have a superpower what would it be?
I think I already have a superpower and that is being able to teach and be able to share.
Honestly, I think that’s it, you think invisibility and all that, but it would just get you into trouble! Having the opportunity and privilege to teach is a superpower.
Do you have a favourite saying or motto?
There are two that come from my mum. One, things are meant to happen for a reason and two, you will find a lesson in everything that you do. It doesn’t matter whether it’s bad or good, if you can find the lesson or learning in it, it will you get you through that event no matter how bad it is.
Read our interview with Catherine Nicol, Elementary School Principal of SJI International here.
Situated on a spacious, leafy campus with impressive facilities, St. Joseph's Institution International School is an independent co-educational Catholic day school in the Lasallian educational tradition. The school offers a holistic, values-driven and international educational experience to a diverse student body comprising more than 40 nationalities. For more information, please contact admissions here