Profile: Caroline Rennie, Principal, Green School New Zealand

CarolineRennie

 

What attracted you to this particular principal’s role?

Everything! I really do feel this is my journey. I am so grateful to be able to come to work every day and live and breathe a mission and vision in which I truly believe. What excites me the most? The development of the high school diploma, which will formalise our skills and values-based outcomes in order to enable access for Green School students to tertiary education institutions around the world. These students have so much to offer the world, I see it in the five-year-old learner who shows me the biggest slater she has ever seen, the debates between students over which formula makes the most aerodynamic mud balls, the child who is smiling with his head held high as he shows others how to dig a garden plot, and just the care and interest the tamariki show for each other and the skills, talent and hard work of our teachers and staff.

 

How would you describe your school?

Green School's mission is to create a global community of learners that will pick up the challenge to make our world truly sustainable. We are a mission-driven school. How we achieve our mission is through community-integrated, entrepreneurial learning, in a natural environment.

Learners are immersed in nature and authentically connect with the earth every day. In this way they come to appreciate and deeply respect the interconnectedness of the people and the planet. When they encounter problems, they are empowered to solve them and challenged at the highest academic levels in the process. That empowerment cultivates a real love of learning and joy in coming to school every day. Our curriculum is based on cross-disciplinary learning around themes – like Year Ones learning about biology, maths and geometry while planting a kumara toe patch, and then growing and preparing meals with their kumara. Our subject classes and experiential learning focus on a combination of enterprise, environmental studies, arts, health and wellbeing.

These skills refer directly to the Green School learning principles and are informed by our school’s vision to “Thrive with Purpose”. There is purpose in all that we do. We explore regenerative principles so we can go beyond being able to sustain, as I think our planet is beyond that requirement and needs to move towards regeneration.

 

What do you hope to achieve through your leadership/what are your future ambitions for the school?

I would like to achieve a collective love of learning. A learning environment in which there is a balance between systems and spontaneity.

I hope that this love of nature, connection to the land and desire to be relentless about making a difference in our world will positively impact the Taranaki community, Aotearoa and the world. In collaboration with their peers, the community and local businesses, our learners will have incredible opportunities to be authentic changemakers. It is our belief that they will be scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators who contribute to making a sustainable healthy lifestyle accessible to all. The Green School whānau is genuinely a community which has come together to be kind, supportive and contribute to Taranaki.

 

Can you briefly describe your career pathway?

My career has afforded me wonderful opportunities for professional growth and career advancement. The schools in which I have taught internationally have been diverse, inclusive, multicultural and multilingual settings that reflect the values of the local community. I have supported high-level achievement with students attending selective and highly-ranked universities around the world, while also advocating for diverse learners who struggle to access the curriculum. I’ve always recognised that not every child is the same and thus not every child will thrive in the same educational setting. It’s an understanding that’s been reinforced through my experience in multiple cultures globally. I have taught and had leadership roles in Fiji, Japan, Korea, China and Qatar and have worked at all levels, as teacher, co-ordinator, deputy head of school, and now Head of Teaching and Learning at Green School New Zealand.

 

Were there any particularly enlightening moments or inspirational people who have helped set you on your way?

This is a question I find hard to answer as I am truly inspired every day by people, podcasts, audio books, research and conversations. My masters programme and attending the Association of International Heads Institute helped me understand the complexities of a headship and to value and curate support networks. ISNZ is a huge support for me transitioning back to New Zealand. Taking a moment to be thankful each day is what keeps me grounded.

 

How would you describe your leadership philosophy?

My experience as a mum has had a huge impact on my philosophy of education and empathy toward the complexities of education as a learner, educator and parent. There are no clear manuals on how to navigate the 12 years of school life. I read many educational leadership books but have come to appreciate the research on grit, growth mindset, resilience, transfer of knowledge, skills and attitudes, and most recently on incorporating mindfulness and student wellbeing into the learning space.

I have been fortunate to run workshops on authentic assessment, curriculum design and language learning around the world. In these workshops, there is a buzz of conversation and a fusion of ideas. There is also a huge resistance to being confined to a set space for three days and an acknowledgement of how much energy it takes to learn. We know the most effective learning happens when we can find balance and flow – when we can create an environment where learners feel safe, valued, are kind, listen to each other, take responsibility and are able to learn content and skills (these are still important building blocks of knowledge), and have the opportunity to apply these in authentic situations in the moment. So, with this understanding, I am collaborating with others to create this ideal learning environment. Over the years, I have learned the value of working together with positivity, being authentic and having a “can do attitude”.

 

Can you share your thoughts about independent education – in New Zealand and internationally?

As independent schools, we are required to be financially independent of Government education subsidies and fund our own operating costs, and we take that seriously. Schools shouldn’t be separate from their communities, they should be the hubs of communities. This is our ambition. We know that as we do more to collaborate with and add benefit to our Taranaki community, the more we will attract families to join us here. It creates a virtuous cycle that will have positive ripple effects out into the world.

Internationally, independent education can meet the needs of a deficient local system of education. It can provide the opportunities to those that can afford it, for accessing tertiary education worldwide. In New Zealand we have a good state system for all students, so independent education must offer something unique to attract students and provide extended opportunities. At GSNZ we strive to live in harmony with the environment, learn in alignment with the world around us and actively seek entrepreneurial solutions for sustainability and regeneration.

 

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

What I appreciate is the flexibility to adapt, to meet the changing needs of our world so we can best prepare our learners for success. We bit off a lot of responsibility with Green School, as we’re not just accountable to the education of our learners but to the sustainability of our school and its regenerative impacts on the planet. Independent schools let you take greater risks like that, and as we know with great risk comes even greater reward.

 

What do you see as the benefits for students of attending an independent school?

Independent schools offer families choices, for students who thrive in different learning environments or simply for families who want to align their lifestyle – including their children’s education – with their values. At Green School that often means families who want to see a change in how we interact with our planet, and families who understand the connection between personal and planetary wellbeing. I use the word ‘families’ intentionally because, at Green School, we are a community of learners – and that includes parents too!