Marking his 20th year in international education, Peter Coombs joined Dover Campus as Middle School Principal in August 2018. He has previously held teaching and leadership roles in the Netherlands, Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as in his home country of Australia.
A passionate advocate of middle years education, with a particular interest in ensuring that learning is purposeful for each student, he believes that students should be provided with challenges and choices to guide their own learning. He has presented workshops in Asia and Europe on concept based education, and in particular, how learning can be assessed and reported.
Peter holds a Masters degree in Education from the University of Melbourne and is working on a doctoral degree in Organisational Behaviour. He has also served on school accreditation teams visiting schools in Asia, Europe and Africa.
At the end of his first term at UWCSEA, Dunia asked Peter for his first impressions.
What were your first impressions of UWCSEA, and how have they changed over the term since you’ve joined us?
My first impressions related to the sheer size. I wondered if, with all of the people, systems and locations needed to operate such a large school, there would still be the feeling of collegiality that I had experienced in previous schools. I’m pleased to say that I needn’t have worried. Despite the size of the school there is a real sense of community among the staff, students and parents.
What drew you to teaching the first place?
I am fortunate that I knew early in life what I wanted to do for a career. From high school I was always comfortable saying that I would be a teacher, no doubt influenced by some of the terrific teachers that I had though my own schooling. They were the ones that connected well with students, and made learning interesting and fun. I always liked learning and I liked the idea that I could be a positive influence for young people, so teaching seemed like the ideal job.
How did you become involved in Middle Years as a specialism?
When I was at school and for the first part of my teaching career in Australia, middle schools did not really exist. A secondary school was grades 7 through 12. It was only when I moved overseas to teach English and Social Studies in the middle school at Taipei American School in 1999 that I really became aware of specialised middle years programmes. It did not take me long to recognise the benefits of the separation between middle and high school. I appreciate the uniqueness of the middle school age years for young people as they develop academically and socially into young adults. It’s this age group that I have chosen to work with ever since.
Had you visited UWCSEA, or any other UWCs, before applying to work here? Did you have previous experience of the movement?
I was aware of the school though meeting teachers at various professional conferences, and also through coaching at regional sporting events. In becoming aware of the Principal position, I did contact a former colleague and friend who currently works on the East Campus and ask for her insights. She said that she would be very happy to have her children complete all of their schooling at UWCSEA because she was so pleased with what they were experiencing. That was enough for me to investigate the school more and put in my application.
How would you describe the importance of the UWC mission and values?
This school is more mission driven and actively lives out its stated values more than any of the other schools I have worked at. If you look at the websites of many international schools, generally they all include statements about global citizenship, compassion for others and academic success. While I am sure that they do indeed believe in these things, not many of them would walk the walk they way things are done here. Through their participation in the wide range of activities available, their experiences with service, their relationships with people from many backgrounds and an openness to a variety of viewpoints, UWCSEA students really can be a force for peace, unity and sustainability.