• Red Dot Consulting

Meet Richard Dyer, Principal of Dover Court International School, Singapore

We were delighted to have the opportunity to meet new Principal of Dover Court International School, Richard Dyer, and hear more about his journey to the school and the challenges of taking on a new headship during Singapore's ongoing Covid restrictions.

 

Can you tell us about your journey to Singapore and Dover Court International School?

It all started in my first school in Dagenham, London. It’s quite a deprived area and that was my first experience of education. It was a baptism of fire and I think I learnt more about the craft of teaching in a short time than I ever would elsewhere. Then an opportunity came up in Hong Kong and that was a key moment, the opening of my eyes to South-East Asia and to the phenomenal opportunities of international education. I spent the next 21 years in two different ESF schools in Hong Kong (Island School and West Island School) but I did seven different jobs so I certainly wasn’t standing still! I met my wife there, had a family and then it was either stay forever or go further afield, so we went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Alice Smith School and Garden International School) and then onto Vietnam (British International School, Ho Chi Minh City).


My time at BIS HCMC was another seminal moment, an opportunity to join Nord Anglia Education. We left Vietnam to head back to Europe – family timing – when I got the call to join The British International School Budapest, another school within the Nord Anglia Education family. Even though it was the middle of January and 20 degrees below zero, I fell in love with the place and ended up staying for six years. And from there it’s back to Asia with just my wife, Catherine, as our three boys are now grown up and in university or working in the UK.


In short, it’s been a long journey, I went to Hong Kong thinking I was going to do a two-year contract and that was 38 years ago!


What, in particular, drew you to Dover Court International School?

It’s really a unique school. It’s British, international, and inclusive. A lot of schools put those words in their headlines but we really live it. And we also have so much heritage and history and of course this fantastic large, green campus! It’s our 50th anniversary year this year; the school is at an exciting point and ready to position itself for the next fifty, so we are really looking forward to celebrating that heritage.


Another advantage is our Nord Anglia connection. It’s not just that we have our collaboration with Juilliard, MIT, UNICEF and The Anna Freud National Centre, but it’s the ability to attract and recruit some fantastic people through our network and reputation.


Who, or what, influenced you to become an educator in the first instance?

I came from a very humble background; my father was a tool maker and my mother worked in a variety of part time jobs, daytime and evening. While I enjoyed school myself, I wasn’t necessarily looking at going into education. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but I knew I wanted to do something that made the world a better place so after talking to a friend I decided to do my PGCE. Since then, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to work with people who are authentic, experienced and have integrity and also this great sense of community that exists. International schools are phenomenally collegial places to work and there is a real sense of belonging.


You have joined in a difficult time with pandemic restrictions still in place, what impact has that had on how you have introduced yourself as a leader and been connecting with the school community?

If I reflect on the past couple of years and how it’s shifted, I recognise that it’s about leading the narrative with the community. People obviously turn to the head of the school for guidance so it is important for us to evolve the narrative in the right direction, to build the story but to also be fairly agile about it. The key message has to be that we are in this together and the most important people we are in this for are your children. Teachers also find it tough, they have children too! It affects us all so sometimes we have to remind parents we are actually all on the same side and we are in this together.


It’s hard to get the ‘face time’ with parents right now but I’ve been doing some virtual parent coffee mornings and I make sure that in the mornings I meet parents and students at drop-offs and pick-ups. I’m using whatever opportunities I can, so if someone emails in, if I can, I’ll respond with a call and just talk to them.


Is there anything that you, or the school, will take forward as positive learning from the pandemic that will result in longer term change for the school?

The obvious one is the virtual parent meetings. It is clear how much more time efficient and easier they are especially for working parents. It doesn’t replace face-to-face and you do lose the opportunity for parents to get together but perhaps if we have three or four of these a year, then at least two could be virtual.

Lots of schools are talking about well-being and resilience but I think going forward it’s more about empowerment and sustainability. How can we develop the skills and dispositions in young people to take charge of their lives, the lives of the community and the world going forward? As Baroness Kidron said in the House of Lords, ‘Young people today are enthusiastic but not empowered, passionate but not prepared’ and I think that’s always been the case. Sustainability of our institutions is crucial. Are we robust enough as a school so that we are the same school that parents will still want in five, ten years time? These bigger picture themes, within which resilience, well-being and mental health all play their part, are the headlines that we need.

What do you think makes a great, not just a good, school?

It’s all about vision. Where we are going? What is our moral purpose and do we have the ability to deliver on it? It’s not just about putting words on the wall or on paper, it’s the alignment of everybody in the community with the overriding moral purpose and having the courage to unpick, unpack and deliver it. It’s that idea of shared values that are consistently enacted by everyone be it the security guards at the gate, the catering staff, the teachers or the students and of course the parents as well.


For Dover Court, it’s about capturing our unique identity. We talk about diversity and inclusivity and I want that to be a design feature of the school, that sense of what’s in it for you rather than what’s in it for us.


What is the best advice you would give one of your new school joiners?

I’m going to say something which might sound trivial but isn’t…talk to people. It’s as simple as that. Just say good morning, make eye contact. This can gradually change things, in a matter of days or weeks, you end up in conversations so yes, just get to know people and engage.


Do you have a personal motto in life?

No! Nothing that’s carried me through life, but I have a few things that have guided me. Integrity comes up most often; it’s about honesty, wholeness and commitment. I do remember my own old school motto though: ‘Esse non videre: To be rather than to seem to be’. Authenticity is so important…


And lastly, if you hadn’t been an educator, what would you have liked to have been doing?

What I’d like to do, and still see myself being happy doing, is being an underwater photographer. It’s that combination of tranquillity, focus, creativity, artistry, a bit of science behind it and nature. To do that every day, to just be able to take photos of creatures everywhere, just knowing which creatures to photograph.

 

Established since 1972, Dover Court International School in Singapore is one of the leading inclusive British international schools in South East Asia.

We are delighted to invite all prospective families to our regular Open Mornings and a tour of our school. Please contact our Admissions Team here

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