Principal profile - Philip Coombe, Huanui College
Why have you chosen to come to Huanui College?
To help create something very special and unique.
You were previously Deputy Headmaster of Teaching and Learning and Director of Studies at King’s College, another ISNZ Member School. What are the similarities and differences between the two schools, and how has your time at King’s prepared you for your role at Huanui?
The key similarities would be that there is active parental and teacher support for children’s learning and wellbeing; effective teaching for a diverse range of students; effective leadership and effective professional learning for teachers. There is often, as there should be, an expectation that the schools are in good places and moving to even better ones. I think the difference is mainly around scale, origin and identity. Both schools are unique in the New Zealand educational landscape. I think that King’s allowed me to develop my strategic thinking in particular, as well as apply ‘practice fields’ across a wide range of curriculum and learning areas. It sharpened my appetite for shaping what education should look like.
What do you aim to achieve as Principal?
Schools must be thinking communities linked to wider societies. In society it is important for everyone to engage – schools must encourage debate and be part of a thinking society in its widest sense. We need to teach our students to live in the world of change – to live with confidence in uncertainty. The issue is how we create a community or school of wider society – school into society and society into school. This will be my primary aim as Principal.
Tell us about your choice of career as an educator. Were there enlightening moments or inspirational people to set you on your way?
My parents. I was the first in the family to attend university, which changed my whole perspective on life. I was fortunate to be on the Teaching Studentship programme and wanted to pay back the faith invested in me and to contribute to education generally.
Describe the pathway your career has followed.
I began my teaching career at Hamilton Boys High School and then moved to Auckland Grammar School, Macleans College and onto King’s College. These have all been wonderful experiences for me and I have been privileged to work with many outstanding teachers and students. My own interests have developed around student thinking and learning, curriculum and professional learning.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I do not ascribe myself to any particular leadership style. I would hope that my leadership is characterised by personal authenticity and capability; strong relationships with understanding and trust; coherence, identity and a feeling of community; inspirational and supportive and, above all else, ethical.
Can you share your thoughts about independent education – in New Zealand and internationally?
I think the thing that all independent schools have in common is their commitment to character development; breadth of programmes; meeting the learning needs of the individual child; the development of core academic and 21st century skills; personal wellness and continuous school improvement. Internationally this is appreciated and celebrated by all the major pillars in society – government, business, recruitment bodies, tertiary sector, families and so on. This appreciation is more limited in New Zealand.
What do you see as the benefits of working at an independent school?
The key benefit is the sense of community and the individual’s place within it. The main benefits are embodied in consistency, innovation and capability. I believe in a strong emphasis on preparing students for a changing world, while maintaining respect for tradition, and independent schools focus on instilling a love of learning, respect for themselves and others, tolerance of humanity – in fact, celebrating diversity. Both students and teachers benefit from a community with this as its emphasis.
What encouragement would you give to parents considering a private education for their children?
I would encourage parents to consider carefully those attributes found in independent education. Young people are special and this needs to be acknowledged with a sense of being part of a caring community with rules and freedoms that mirror the expectations of an ordered society. This includes a need for a sense of order and discipline which goes hand in hand with a respect for authority; the development of sound work habits and organisational skills; an extra-curricular programme that promotes a keen interest in sport and the arts; the instilling of a sensible approach to competition, learning to win with humility, to lose with grace; a staff united in its commitment to excellence in the classroom and its involvement in the broader life of the community; frequent reminders of the intrinsic importance and value of each individual. In short, Huanui College demonstrates a commitment to learning, to justice, to individual achievement and to wholeness.