Mobile Navigation

Launching the new UWCSEA Strategy 2018-2023: Preparing for a sustainable future

Chris Edwards, Former Head of College, UWCSEA
31 May 2018

The UWCSEA Strategy encompasses four areas of focus to create a sustainable future for the College.

I don’t know how many thousands of books there are on leadership models, but frankly everyone should save themselves a whole lot of money and instead just read the words Shakespeare gave Henry V on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt.

The Henry V speech is a trip round the bay of modern leadership theory, with Henry, in a single address to his troops, displaying charismatic, transformational, democratic, situational, autocratic and even, I would suggest at one moment, laissez-faire techniques. Henry’s words take only a few minutes to read (much less time than “Good to Great” and other corporate manuals), but they resonate through the centuries. The trick of Henry’s success, it seems to me, lies not just in his anticipating the leadership models but also in his deft use of the the ADKAR model of change hundreds of years before business leader Jeff Hiatt thought he’d invented it. For those unfamiliar with ADKAR it stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement.

Awareness: Do you weary English peasant-soldiers know why I’ve brought you to France? Tick.

Desire: Good. Can I then confirm you are all up for the challenge of a great battle in the mud in which thousands might die? Tick.

Knowledge: Okay, that’s great. Good for you. Now given we are also massively outnumbered, do you understand what you have to do to win through this seemingly hopeless situation? (Hint: remember those cool new longbows I gave you?). Tick.

Ability: Er .. please tell me you have actually been practising with those longbows? Tick.

Reinforcement: Super. So when we do come through victorious, you will quickly realise keeping the peace is harder than winning the war. Stay disciplined and focussed …. and don’t anybody secretly go back to using those crummy old spears and swords just because that’s what you always did. Got it? Tick

Now I fear there are few similarities between myself and Henry V, but the principles and methodologies above are all valid in our current context, and so I segue to the genesis, development and coming implementation of UWCSEA’s new Strategy. It may not resonate in history quite like the Battle of Agincourt, but for us it starts a necessary and exciting journey.

We began a year ago with a small, tight group of senior leaders. Our first decision was to identify what was axiomatic to us ... I suppose you might look at it as the "we hold these truths to be self evident” piece. And we decided that the guiding principles you see on our website (the Mission Statement of course, the Educational Goal, the Ambition, the Values and the Definition of Internationalism) were all as relevant as ever. Whatever might happen next, therefore, could not in any shape or form diminish the learning programme: that was sacrosanct. So, a comforting start: we had deep, secure foundations.

We knew too that a creative and long term financial strategy was also going to have to be a part of those foundations. Yes we were focussing on the next five years especially, but we had to ensure were ready for inevitable changes coming our way further down the line. Some of the external forces which act upon us, be they for good or ill, cannot be controlled: but we were comforted by the fact that while you may not be able to stop that big wave coming right at you, you can always learn to surf. So we had to make sure prepared for waves like: Singapore’s increasingly dynamic and volatile climate regarding international education; the need to be accredited by various external organisations like the Council for International Schools; the increasing compliance and regulatory requirements from government; and the fact that both Dover and East have leases. (Like other international schools, we don’t own the land on which we stand. East’s lease expires in 2050; Dover’s in 2030). We had to formulate a financial strategy that secured the future. With two huge campuses now running successfully, we were switching from a growth to a sustainable model for our finances.

But back to the guiding principles. In building the strategy on those foundations, we sought to deliver a transparent, clearly articulated process. It needed to honour multiple perspectives while seeking reliable evidence and data to inform decision making, and all stakeholders should be involved at different stages of the journey (students, parents, staff, governors, etc). We wanted the strategy to be fluid like a river, adapting to changes and obstacles as required; we also wanted to ensure it could survive from year to year while elements within it might change. As a result we identified aspirational future states with specific, actionable projects and tasks forming the roads and bridges to take us there. The generative discussions we sought were often predicated upon questions such as What are our assumptions? What information do we need here? What might be alternatives? What should we stop doing?

The small group of leaders produced areas of focus which were then shared with a wider leadership body, and thus the scale of collaboration grew. Our new partners would need to be champions of the emerging strategy, but at one point things actually became too easy. Once, when there was much congratulatory talk following a long session in which we had virtual unanimity, we decided to halt proceedings and reconvene the following week with a view to creating deliberate divergence by playing devil’s advocate and asking extreme and potentially divisive questions. If we were all so well aligned at this stage, was that not in itself a cause for cultural concern? Was this, for example, an indication less of glorious common purpose than complacency?

By February, our increasingly well-defined Areas of Focus were ready for the Governing Body, and the Board and Executive worked together productively on the ideas, modifying, reworking and occasionally casting off strands of thinking. Say it quietly, but I think a lot of people rather enjoyed it. As we looked to find the right words to introduce the strategy, we invited parents and all colleagues to get involved, and so a major rewrite took place when we realised our first draft came across as the work of UWC zealots. Kurt Hahn might have been proud but the strident diction was jarring to many. After input from those parents and colleagues, language was honed and in some areas softened to better reflect who we are.

And so, this final term of the academic year, we presented our strategy with its four Areas of Focus to our community. We’re not done yet because from the strategy we must formulate the two Campus plans and the one College equivalent (these plans are where the gantt charts, graphs and traffic light systems will indicate whether we are meeting schedules and hitting targets). But the map is now before us and it is our job to navigate safely and effectively.

We want a true UWC education with its attendant learning programme to be available for future generations of students in Singapore, regardless of leases, economic flux and external regulations. And we want to make that journey without diluting our quintessence: we are not just an international school, we are a UWC.

We know who we are, where we want to be and, we believe, how to get there. And when the business manuals fail us, we can fall back on the words of another character from a different, even greater, Shakespeare play:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Visit our webpage for details on the UWCSEA Strategy and each of the four Areas of Focus: Education as a Force; Peace and a Sustainable Future; A United Community; Our Strength and Capacity.