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Meet Lizzie Bray, Head of UWCSEA Dover Campus, Singapore

It was wonderful to meet with Lizzie Bray, Head of UWCSEA Dover Campus, and hear about her incredible 26 years with the school ahead of stepping down to move onto pastures new at the end of this academic year.

 

What was your journey to Singapore?

I grew up in Montreal in a French immersion environment in Quebec as my dad (now retired) was a professor of neurology at McGill University. I loved learning and living in two languages and that has probably played out for most of my career. I taught for four years in Bahrain. I was hopeless at learning Arabic, but I loved the rhythm of the language. There is a musicality to language that no matter where I go I try and pick something up from it, and that would have all come from growing up in a country where two languages was just normal.



What drew you to UWCSEA?

It’s interesting as part of my story with UWC connects back to when I was a high school student and I failed to get into UWC in Canada myself! That put the organisation and movement on my radar and so when a few years into my career I spotted an opportunity to work at UWCSEA, I knew enough to be super excited about what might be possible in a school that has the mission we have.


If I look back at the range of different things that I have been able to do over the last 26 years as an educator, a teacher, and a leader, it’s actually a mirror of the holistic education that we offer the students.


Who inspired you into education in the first instance?

That’s an interesting reflection and I would attribute it to both my parents and my grandparents, as my maternal grandfather and grandmother were a principal and teacher respectively. My mother tells these incredible stories of going to school with her father as the high school principal. My parents valued education enormously and as the eldest of five children that was the ecosystem in which I grew up.


But when I was younger, I was more interested in being able to travel. At 18 years old, I saved money, by working as a lifeguard and swimming instructor, to buy a rail pass to go travelling. Then on leaving McGill University (where I studied geology and chemistry) my graduation gift from my family was a backpack. I hopped on a bus intending to start on the east coast of Canada and head to the west coast but ended up in Japan teaching English as a second language!


Teaching made sense to me, I enjoy working with people and helping them to figure things out. I love trying to unlock something for a young person.


Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known back then?

Part of the fun of life is the journey you take, and the learning along the way. But there is no doubt that it’s only been as an adult (and I mean being over 50!) that I have come to understand more about what being mentally healthy really means. And I don’t mean just from a professional perspective, I mean on a more personal level.

If I could go back to my younger self, that’s what I would want to teach myself; that mental health is something that you look after and the importance of figuring out how to care for that part of yourself.

From a professional perspective, it’s about establishing a safe and secure environment for young people so that they don’t have to learn with any fear. This should be non-negotiable for every organisation working with young people. Good educators know that you don’t put personal, social and emotional education into its own little silo, they know that it’s the glue that holds the rest of your structure together and that it should be across everything that you do as an organisation.


Curriculum development has been a big stand-out in your time at UWCSEA. Can you tell us a little more about its importance?

Without wanting to sound over simplistic, there is an element of consistency that is brought to bear by having things written down. So, it’s important to understand that before we wrote the UWCSEA curriculum, there was something good going on in the school. It’s just that the dots weren’t necessarily connected, and you couldn’t easily hand it over to, say, a new teacher joining. Writing it down gave us guidance and put a more consistent guarantee in place for our students.


There is a phrase in international education, a suitcase curriculum, which describes the scenario when a teacher rocks up and that what is in their head and within their talents is what is delivered to the student. While this wasn’t true for us at UWCSEA, we still wanted to take that element of risk out and be sure we were really delivering the highest quality mission-aligned curriculum for our students and families.


What do you hope to leave as your ‘legacy’ when you move on?

It’s not about what I leave behind, but more about what comes out: the students are the legacy. It’s about playing my part in the team that help these young people to go on and do what they do, to make the choices they make. I love hearing from our alumni and how what they are doing speaks to our mission. It’s not just about hearing that they are working in say banking, but about how they are behaving ethically and sustainably in the industries they are now in. It’s about our young people going on to understand that whatever they do in life, what matters most is that they are making a positive difference to their community.


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

Well, I happen to think that UWCSEA is a great school and what makes this is our community, who share a deep sense of purpose. If you want to look at that through the lens of a school, then that is about creating the breadth and depth of opportunity for young people to thrive, whether they are four or 18 years old. If you are looking at it through the lens of the UWC mission, then it is about making sure that those opportunities you create, while you are learning maths or understanding science, are viewed through the lens of sustainability, diversity, the future. This approach creates a shared sense of purpose. At UWCSEA we ask a lot of our teachers, but the purpose behind doing that hard work is what makes a difference between it being great and not just good.


What is your most memorable moment on campus?

I have such amazing memories, too many to write down! From the moment’s silence on the football pitch when the whole school community came together for Lee Kuan Yew’s passing, an amazing powerful moment, to all the different performances and trips, UN evening and more. Even just moving into our new buildings after a massive flood with everyone getting stuck into help. It’s that sense of everyone coming together over and over again.


What advice would you give to a new student joining UWCSEA Dover

It’s the same advice I’ve given ever since I joined and was an advisor to a small group of 11-year-old children through to my becoming Principal and then Head of School: explore and find the places in the school where you are part of a team. It’s on our football pitch, it’s in our musical programme but it’s also found in the teams of students who form around one of our global concerns projects. Find that team because it’s in that team that you make connections with other students. Find the magic.


And lastly, what next!

Well, watch this space is the honest answer! There is a pull back to Canada for family reasons but I’m too young to stop and I’m interested in other things too. My heart hurts watching the news stories about Canada’s indigenous people and that tragic part of Canadian history. Maybe I’ll find a way to connect into that. But I also really hope that I can stay connected with the UWC movement, the scholars and students.

 

UWC South East Asia (UWCSEA) in Singapore offers a holistic, values-based education that supports all students to develop as empowered individuals who understand their role as contributing members of their community and as a global citizen. A K-12 international school with two campuses, UWCSEA is a member of the global UWC movement. All students are immersed in the five elements of a bespoke learning programme across academics, activities, outdoor education, personal and social education and service that has been developed around the UWC mission to use education as a force to create peace and a sustainable future.

The College runs an annual application cycle, opening applications one year in advance only eg. applications for entry in August 2023 open 1 September 2022. Learn more about our admissions here.


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