• Red Dot Consulting

Meet Matt Mills, Head of School, Bangkok Patana, Thailand

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

In this article we meet with Matt Mills, one of the longest serving heads of an international school in Asia having been Head of Bangkok Patana School in Thailand for the past fourteen years as well as Vice-Chair of FOBISIA, Federation of British International Schools in Asia for the past three years.

 

What was your background and journey to Bangkok Patana School?

Up until I was seven years old, I basically lived a Robinson Crusoe upbringing. My parents, educators in New Zealand, were appointed to Pacific island education to help set up infrastructure and learning quality in local schools in Fiji, Samoa and the Cook Islands. So, I spent my first seven years living on Pacific atolls. I spent my time playing with octopuses, learn to climb coconut trees and becoming fluent in Samoan.


We then moved back to New Zealand, where I did my secondary and university years, but I was always a third culture kid. As soon as I could I went to teach in Papua New Guinea and from there on to Hong Kong to HKIS (Hong Kong International School), a fabulous school. After this I went back to New Zealand but I really missed a stimulating multicultural environment so I took up a headship at the Shanghai American School and then onto my first directorship at an international school in Germany. I had this beautiful office in a Schloss which I liked to joke would have been built before my own country had even been discovered!


It was there that I first heard about Bangkok Patana and here I am now, starting my fourteenth year. Both my boys have come through the school and I am one of the longest serving heads in Asia!


What do you think makes the difference between a good school and a great school?

Great question and I’ve got lots to say on that! A great school doesn’t just talk about how well the school is doing, they are living and breathing it. They are honest about what they are good at and always honest about defining where improvements need to be made. A great school really believes in their mission and vision, their guiding statements. It’s not just about having a fancy poster on every wall but about really walking the talk, living and breathing the mission.


A great school has really top teachers, not just good teachers but top teachers. Teachers who can articulate super confidence in themselves, who know their strengths and who are passionate about the vocation they have chosen.

Finally, a great school accepts and values every child.

Covid has had a bit impact on all schools these past 18 months. Where are you as a school, and as a leader, in terms of handling it?

At this point in the pandemic, it is all about well-being and mental health. Yes, we want our students to not have any learning gaps and we want to do everything to make our online learning as good as it can be. But honestly, right now, it’s about switching focus and looking at how people are feeling. What’s your bubble looking like at the moment? What are the triggers that are taking precedence over everything else? It’s about asking our teachers, how’s it going at home? How can we support you this week, next week and beyond.


In terms of leadership, it’s about being in tune with what the actual realisation is, what bubble is prevailing that day, and it can change Monday to Friday. It’s really different. It’s challenging and it’s changing all the time.

We are making sure that we have lots of opportunities for children to share their thoughts. What are their concerns, what are their worries, where do they think the gaps are? Last year, our whole secondary science programme was centred entirely around lab work because the students hadn’t made it into the lab during home learning. So, it’s about being flexible, adaptable and listening. Listening is so important at the moment.


As Head of School, do you get much chance to listen to the students themselves?

Absolutely. My first appointment is not until 8am in the morning so I go out and meet the students every morning and make sure I’m outside in breaks and lunchtimes. I’ll be playing ping pong, be over at the football or sitting down in the canteen. And I also have a pizza lunch with each year group once a year. There is no agenda, I just give them pizza and ice cream and we just talk about what they are excited about and what they are sad about.


Who has influenced or inspired you in your education journey?

I’m a huge Professor John Hattie fan. He’s all about student voice, he’s given his whole life to analysing student data and learning. But I’m also a drama guy so I get inspiration from all sorts of people, not just those in academics. It’s about people and things that excite you. Those are the role models, they are the spin off on how impactful and effective you are as a leader. When you are a leader you’ve got to be upbeat and positive because those around you draw on this, so it’s important to do everything that you can to make yourself as happy and joyous as you can be.


My father was also a great role model too. He was an educator and headmaster and I’ve followed suit but he was a man of very few words whereas, as a drama guy who likes to speak. I’m the polar opposite!


Can you recommend your favourite book to us?

I love reading. When someone asks me to recommend a book it’s like sharing a gift so my expectation is that if I share this with you, you will make an effort to read it (yes, we will!). The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, it’s a 1950s west coast memoir about a dysfunctional family on the poverty line. It’s brilliant.

 

Bangkok Patana School is the oldest and most respected not-for-profit, British international school in Thailand, for students from Nursery to Year 13. We provide learning from Foundation Stage right through to Senior Studies for over 2,200 students from around 60 countries. The School follows a modified English National curriculum up to Year 11 and the International Baccalaureate in Years 12 and 13. Bangkok Patana School is committed to nurturing lifelong learners who can adapt to an ever-changing world. Our goal is to give your children the best intellectual, physical and social preparation for their futures. For more information on our school and admissions please click here

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