Profile: Lawrence Stephens, Chemistry Teacher and Campus Deputy Principal, ACG Sunderland

Describe your role at ACG Sunderland, and what attracted you to the school.

The Cambridge Curriculum was a big drawcard for me, as was the opportunity to work with the principal Nathan Villars who I knew from the time we spent working together at Auckland Grammar School. At ACG Sunderland I teach senior Chemistry classes and I am the sole Campus Deputy Principal. With that role I look after the operations of the school including timetabling, examination organisation, curriculum leadership, day relief, pastoral care etc.


What impact have you made in your role? Can you share some highlights and achievements with us?

When I arrived at ACG Sunderland the school only went up to Year Ten. Driving the creation of the senior school and the implementation of the Cambridge Curriculum across it was an enjoyable challenge. Its very rewarding to see where we are now with a wide range of subjects being offered and very high academic results – last year over 40% of our A-Level passes were A or A*.


Can you tell us a bit about the work you’ve done to integrate the Cambridge curriculum into the New Zealand educational environment?

I have a strong belief in the Cambridge curriculum, right from Year One to Year Thirteen. In the global world we live in, offering students an international qualification just seems to make sense and the opportunities it offers our students on a global scale are immense. I was at Auckland Grammar School as a teacher when Cambridge first started in New Zealand and shortly after moved to ACG and have been a big part of its implementation in the ACG Schools. As the chair of the Association of Cambridge Schools New Zealand Academic Committee, I support other schools with Cambridge and organise the New Zealand Cambridge conference along with Cambridge International. I also lead the Cambridge Chemistry Network Group and really enjoy being able to support teachers throughout New Zealand within a subject I am passionate about. 


How would you describe your approach to teaching?

While I enjoy my management responsibilities, being in class is still the part of my day I look forward to the most. I am passionate about my subject and I think that comes across to the students when I am teaching. Chemistry is a practical Science so hands-on activities are critical, not just to build understanding but also for student enjoyment. I also make heavy use of Blackboard as a learning management system. Through this all resources used in class are available to the students, answers to all questions, video tutorials, online testing and each lesson plan. This also means that a student away from class has access to everything that went on in class so shouldn’t fall behind.


Can you give us some background on your career in education?

I was very lucky to get a position as a first-year teacher at Auckland Grammar School. The Head of Science there at the time, Nandy Nathu, was a huge influence for me and how I operate both as a teacher and as a senior manager owes a lot to him. I have now spent fifteen years working for three ACG schools, and have worked under some outstanding senior managers who have given me the support and space to grow into the teacher and leader I am now. This has illustrated to me the importance of support and mentoring for young teachers.


How do you encourage and nurture a love of learning in your students?

If you are passionate about learning yourself, that passion and enthusiasm rubs off on the students. It’s also important to have a safe environment in the classroom where nothing is a silly question and opinions are valued and respected. If a student has confidence that their voice is important, they can articulate their views and they are valued, the classroom becomes a happy place to be.


What do you most want to achieve in your role?

For the young men and women graduating from Year Thirteen to achieve academic results to or near their potential, have a love of learning, and be well rounded people with a balance of other interests in their life.


What do you see as the benefits of working at an independent school?

Ability to operate a fantastic international qualification like Cambridge rather than being forced to offer NCEA is a huge benefit. The parents also tend to be heavily invested in their child’s education and are very supportive of the school. This often flows through to having students in class who are engaged and wanting to learn – a real joy for a teacher.


What do you see as the benefits of independent schooling for students?

By choosing the right independent school with a culture and values that match the family, everyone will be working together to achieve the very best outcome for each and every student rather than having a one size fits all approach.