A Headmaster’s View on the Next Generation of Education – Alan Stevens

This article is a part of Discere’s ‘Insights with Experts’ series, where Discere co-founders Joao and Shyam interview professionals across various industries. Read more here.

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It was Ireland’s oldest school; Royal School Dungannon, where Mr Stevens was first educated. From here he followed his passion for History to study at Queen’s University, Belfast, where he achieved a First Class degree. His first role as an educator was seen through Campbell College, where he became a housemaster and the Head of History. Before embarking on the next stage of his career at Trent College in England as Head of Main School, Mr Stevens completed a period of research at Yale University and gained an MA in Educational Management and Leadership. In 2010, he was then appointed Headmaster of Barnard Castle School in 2010. Followed by this is his current appointment as Headmaster of Marlborough College Malaysia. Outside of his role as an educator, Mr Stevens was commissioned in the UK reserve forces and acts as an inspector with the Independent Schools Inspectorate.

A Quick Summary

Best put by Mr. Stevens, inspiration is the catalyst to pursuing your interests. The feeling we get when something enlightens us and leaves us challenged is what moves us forward. While a passionate historian, Mr Stevens admits to not liking all the topics he studied, and what we learnt is that there is an element of naturality to this. His interests were leaned over to the study of historiography; the study of the practice of history. In addition to historical content, specific figures during his youth such as his history teacher would go on to ‘genuinely inspire’ Mr Stevens. Highlighting the extent to which educational figures can impact our lives.

While Mr Steven’s journey was one that was evidently enjoyed. It did not come without the presence of a challenge. The most prominent of which was time. Time builds a sense of pressure that forces us to make specific choices and possibly even sacrifice elements of our lives for more strategic matters. Mr Stevens witnessed his passion for teaching history erode with the fact that he has to take on headmaster commitments. However, as seen from Mr Stevens experiences, we grow at the hands of  a challenge. This was seen through his substitution of teaching with events such as working with prefects, observing teachers in action, lectern clubs, etc. 

In addition to time, our personality traits can often clash with the roles we are expected to fulfill. As many of us might as well, Mr Stevens considers himself an introvert. A characteristic that often contrasts with the confident and public role of a leader. However, as resilient people, we must stretch ourselves and aim to get better in the areas we are less confident in. But while qualities such as public speaking often compose successful leaders, Mr Stevens would argue that the core quality of a leader lies in their philosophy, integrity and thought as he referred to Barack Obama as a celebrated example. Furthermore, when taken into the perspective of a team, a dangerous composition can often be surrounding yourself with clones, differences should be acknowledged and embraced. 

In recent years, that has been an increased realisation for the need to incorporate softs skills and emotional intelligence into our schooling curriculums. Mr Stevens acknowledges the prevalence of exam focused teaching systems, especially in the APAC region of the world. While he is an educator, he is also an employer. Mr Stevens values the need for empathy, communication, flexibility as well as other soft skills when looking for people to join his work teams. Acknowledging the importance of these skills, he integrates them into teaching the students in his school. However, how that is executed is a different story. Mr Stevens compares teaching emotional intelligence to teaching swimming, in the sense that it cannot be done in a classroom but instead a pool. Suggesting that if we aim to develop these skills, students must be taught through experience and action. This is seen through pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones, immersing ourselves in new communities among other emotionally developing activities. 

Another academic realisation emerging is the preparation for uncertainty. Change has been exponential, and we should be educating our students in accordance to this coming change. While technology and math compose the majority of this new era, Mr Stevens would argue that education is about discovering your potential and passion. Referring to Jack Ma, education should be about teaching students what machines can’t do, skills that involve emotional intelligence. This would entail maintaining the importance of breath in learning. As a macro view, Mr Stevens referred to two main components to this learning; problem solving over memory testing and being open to inspiration.   

To conclude our interview, Mr Stevens left us with a valuable piece of advice; “don’t do what is expected of you”. By this he suggested that we should not feel pressured to do things that don’t necessarily inspire us. The weight of expectation is often what limits us and we should escape this by giving ourselves room to flourish and embrace the unexpected. 

Don’t just do what’s expected of you, embrace the unexpected, explore what’s possible and give yourself permission to flourish

Alan Stevens

Marlborough College Malaysia is a prestigious British boarding school located in Johor, Malaysia; learn more here.

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