Written by Nadine Runkel (POP Liaison Officer)
We had a special addition to the YCIS Primary Leadership Team last week, our student Co-Principal for a Day, Jake McDaniel. We took this opportunity to have a talk with our Co-Principals, Mary Yu & Damien Hehir and ask them a few questions.
Damien and Mary – thanks for taking time out of your busy schedules to answer a few questions! Let’s dive right in:
Where are you both from, and how long have you been in Shanghai?
Damien: I am from Adelaide, Australia and have been here for nearly 17 years.
Mary: I am Shanghainese.
What is your favourite thing to do with your family in Shanghai?
Damien: We had a season pass for Disney this year and we enjoyed going there a lot. We like to go eat out as a family and we especially enjoy taking our dog, Roger, for a walk.
Mary: We like to go to museums – my daughter particularly likes the Natural History Museum
Name ONE thing that you look forward to, coming to school each day.
Damien: I just love coming to a place where the children are happy and learning, in a safe and nurturing environment. I also greatly enjoy leading a team of wonderful people who really want to make a difference in children’s lives.
Mary: I like starting the day off with Gate Duty, because it gives me the opportunity to greet everyone and it’s always great to see so many happy and eager faces in the morning!
What is the most difficult thing you have to do as Principal?
Damien: When I have to meet with parents about an issue and both parties believe that they are doing the right thing and both have the child’s best interest at heart but can’t reach agreement. It can be difficult to reach consensus but always the child must come first.
Mary: I am a parent at heart, but in school I’m also a leader. Sometimes those two don’t quite fit together and you can have different perspectives and you have to choose to be professional, even though the parent inside me has different emotions.
When did you know, you wanted to be a Principal of a school? And how long have you been Principal?
Damien: I never imagined that actually, you kind of imagine yourself one step up at a time. For me it was a natural progression, positions just presented themselves at the right time.
I came to Shanghai in 2001 and was a Class teacher in Gubei for 5 years. In 2006 I came over here to the Pudong Campus and was a Coordinator for 2 years. I took over as Vice Principal in 2008 and am now in my 5th year as Co-Principal.
Mary: I also went the “classic” route – I started here at YCIS in 2000 as a Chinese teacher and then became Chinese Group Leader. I moved up to become Chinese Coordinator and from 2008-2010 I was Vice Principal. At this point I thought I would be Vice Principal for quite some time, but life had a different plan for me. The position of Co-Principal became available and our deputy director approached me about it. At first, I was surprised and torn whether to take this path. I had been Vice Principal at CP for Secondary and wasn’t sure if I was ready to be Co-Principal for Primary and Secondary. Now I am glad I took this big step, as I enjoy working in this position.
How did you like Principal being auctioned at the recent Spring Charity Brunch?
Damien: As soon as this proposal came up and the POP Core Committee approached me, I was excited. I loved the idea! It has been a fantastic day and a good experience.
Mary: I really quite liked the idea, and it was very interesting to see how parents perceive the role of the Principal – how important the position is and how much fun it was to be auctioned off.
How did the “Student Principal” do as “Principal for a Day”?
Damien: Jake did really well and I think he has a lot of potential to be a future principal. He was very mature and took each task on seriously but we still had some fun which is important in this job.
Mary: It has been great! When the other students and the parents saw Jake this morning doing Gate Duty and welcoming our families, they were surprised and happy to see this extra addition to our leadership team. He has taken his job very seriously and I think he might be a future teacher or even principal.
What would you recommend or say to a student who is one day wanting to be like you, a Principal?
Damien: You have to be a good teacher first, you have to have a passion for education and be willing to work hard in your own studies. Being a Principal comes with great responsibility but it is also very rewarding.
Mary: Work hard! It’s a hard job to be any kind of leader there might always be difficulties and challenges, but if you remain calm and focused you can meet these challenges. Always try your very best, that way you will be able to enjoy the process, and don’t worry too much about the outcome.
How do your kids like you as being Principal of their school or being a Principal?
Damien: For my girls, it’s all they’ve ever known – I think to them it is really not a big deal and just part of their normal life. They enjoy having their dad at school, but to be honest I don’t even get to see that much of them during the day.
Mary: I think for my daughter (who does not attend YCIS) – it is maybe a little more special and I think she sometimes likes to show off a little at her school. So I tell her, this is just my job, and you shouldn’t say too much, so you don’t put any pressure on your teachers. When I go to her school, for a parent meeting, for example, then I am just that – a parent.
What has been your proudest achievement at YCIS?
Damien: I don’t think I can just single out one. I am quite proud of our academic results that we are scoring in the ISA test and over the years, that’s been quite a significant improvement. I am proud of new opportunities for students that we as a team have introduced such as YCIS sporting teams and the spring musical. I am proud of our work on Child Protection. It is great to see staff development; when I see someone who started as a teacher and is now thriving in a leadership role, and having played a part in that. One of the most recent achievements is certainly the new play structure!
Mary: In my first year as Co-Principal, I was still teaching. I taught Chinese language A on the IB level. We had one student in that year’s graduating class who had been my student since K4!! It was amazing to have seen this child on his academic journey from Kindergarten to graduate, and he even made it into one of the top universities – Pepperdine. He also gave a speech at his YCIS graduation, representing his class, and it was a special moment when he thanked his teachers and said he was especially thankful for my support and guidance.
Thank you both so much for taking the time and giving our community the opportunity to get to know you better. Do you have any closing comments you would like to share with our parents?
Damien: I think being a principal is a big responsibility particularly as parents are trusting us to keep their children safe and cared for at all times. At the same time, this is such a rewarding position because I get to know so many of the children and work with professional and caring staff. It is also a great pleasure to meet the passionate parents in our community who care about our school and what we are trying to do. I feel like I have the best job in the world.
Mary: I would like to always encourage parents, that if they have any questions or concerns to come and talk to us. We practice very open communication and love to work with you – the parents – to make our school community better. At the end of the day we both care about the same thing: Our children!