Kowloon Junior School headmaster Mark Cripps has followed a novel career path for a principal in the English Schools Foundation (ESF). Even his university degree was unusual — after enjoying geography at school, Mr Cripps studied agricultural economics and subsequently worked in accountancy for a few years. Deciding that it was not the right choice, he tapped into the sales profession selling computers and other hi-tech products. This proved good communication training, but he did not feel sufficiently motivated.
It was during his journeys to the Middle East, Southeast Asia and India that he realised a career in education would be a great path for a keen traveller like him, as there are many opportunities in international schools around the world.
Best of both worlds
Mr Cripps then began a postgraduate certificate in education programme in his native UK. His first job as a teacher was in South East England. "I absolutely loved it when I got into the classroom," he says.
"Being a primary school teacher, I helped build the children's self confidence. Seeing them succeed and move forward was the thing that really appealed to me."
He also found the work challenging. "You must think on your feet. Dedicated teachers spend much of their time thinking about lesson plans and resources to ensure the lessons will be inspiring," he adds.
Despite high satisfaction, Mr Cripps was lured away by an advertisement for a teacher in Thailand where he spent the following three years teaching in an international school and "got the bug" for living abroad.
"I have always followed the job," he says. For this reason, he then moved to a prestigious British International School in Jakarta. "I was put in charge of five other teachers and six classes with around 150 children, as well as coordinating IT for all primary years," he recalls.
While in Indonesia, Mr Cripps enrolled in a distance-learning programme in education management. "I wanted to see how far I could go," he notes. Though the course helped, Mr Cripps still learned a lot the old-fashioned way — making a mistake, realising the error, and doing it another way.
With advanced qualifications and increased experience, Mr Cripps moved to Cairo in Egypt where he was appointed deputy head and later head of another British International school.
Five years later he was ready for the next move. He obtained a master's degree in learning and teaching, before taking up the position of principal at an international primary school in the Netherlands.
In a move to pursue further professional development, Mr Cripps decided he needed more experience in the UK. As a result, he made his way back home in South East England and became head of a primary school.
"That was a successful school with outstanding ratings from the Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education) in the UK, and excellent SATS (standard assessment tests) results. During the two years as head teacher, I wanted to add value to it," he remarks.
Just when he was preparing to stay for a third year, he saw an advertisement for the position of principal of Kowloon Junior School. "The ESF has a very good reputation, and such opportunities don't come up every day," Mr Cripps stresses.
"Create an edge to differentiate yourself"
"Hong Kong is one of the easiest places to settle down in," says Mr Cripps. "Everything works very well and people are polite and helpful. I'm really enjoying living here." Even before arriving, he felt he would stay in Hong Kong for 10 years as the idea of moving every few years no longer appeals.
Mr Cripps' main focus is on further enhancing the quality of learning for his students. "Kowloon Junior School is an excellent school, with great staff, lovely children and supportive parents — all the right ingredients for further success," he emphasises.
As well as a drive to succeed, having good communication skills and being reflective proved important in Mr Cripps' career. "Sometimes there is not a lot of time, but you must learn to reflect on the job and find out how you can make things work for the benefit of the children," he advises.
People management is probably the most challenging aspect of the job, according to Mr Cripps, since it involves coping with many different personalities. "It's important to have a strong vision, and to give people a role in decision making," he expands. "The old top-down management is not effective in the modern world, especially in education, because the sector is changing so rapidly you need to have a team of flexible and adaptable people."
Reflecting on his career, and what it takes to become a headmaster, Mr Cripps says, "You create your own luck. It is important to study your job and put certain things in place. For example, most ESF principals have a master's degree in education and the majority have experience in their home countries. Even if you're very good at what you do, the educational leadership market is highly competitive and therefore you need to create an edge to differentiate yourself from everyone else."