Ahead of ASK’s Annual Information Day on 8 November 2014, we met up with Mr Yves Thézé, Director General of Collège du Léman
What is your philosophy as School Principal?
As an educator, I strongly believe the emotional side of education is essential; too many professionals focus solely on the academic side of education rather than combining this with life coaching and fostering self-confidence. I believe education is more than just results; it’s shaping children into well-rounded and caring adults and arming them with the weapons they’ll need to deal with the struggles in their lives. Shaping children can shape countries.
Could you talk us through your path from local French education into an international career?
While housemaster at a French boarding school, I volunteered to help at the library and set it up properly. I wasn’t a qualified librarian and eventually lost the job to someone who was, but went on to become a temporary French History and English teacher. I qualified as a librarian and, a few years later, realised I’d like to captain and develop a team. After serving as Deputy Principal at a school in Brittany for some years, I wanted to spread my wings further afield and moved on to enjoy an international career in Foreign Affairs, which included posts in Australia and Canada. Unfortunately, Canada proved too cold for my wife and we headed back to France where I accepted a post as Head of a school in Paris notorious for its social tensions. I found this experience in Paris a useful and important step in my career and I drew great inspiration from my wife who is a special needs teacher; her caring skills helped me focus on supporting and caring for my students. After a healthy stint in Paris, I wanted an international position and accepted the role of founding the new Lycée Français in New York, where I spent 10 years before joining CdL in 2011.
What are the successes of which you are most proud?
While I was Director of at the Lycée Français in New York, I received a call from a girl in Haiti whose school had been commandeered as a hospital following the earthquake. She asked me if she could come and study at my school with her two brothers. I agreed and in the next four hours received similar requests from 35 other schools. I called a meeting with the school’s Board and Parents Association and we were able to offer 10 students from Haiti places at the school, with the Parents’ Association providing the funds for their sports equipment. One girl, whose legs had been crushed and had spent eight days trapped underneath a building next to her dead aunt, was flown to New York and two of my teachers volunteered to teach her at the hospital. She eventually made it to school and got to meet Patrick Segal, the author of “The Man who Walks in his Head”, at our Sports/Handicap Day. He told her to accept and come to terms with her new legs and a truly special moment was seeing her walk to the door and open it for me some months later. I am delighted to say she was awarded her Bac last year, after which she wrote to her teachers to thank them.
I am proud that, during the 23 years of my career as a Head Teacher, I have sought to combine the best of both worlds; i.e. the academic rigour of the French curriculum with the broader aspects of the English curriculum. I also have great pride in the school I set up and developed in New York. Not only did it thrive, but I instigated a sponsorship campaign which funded places for students from families of modest means, which I believed enriched the school as it provided a healthy social mix – a great preparation for adulthood. By the time I left, annual sponsorship had risen from US$300,000 to US$2,000,000
What is the main frustration you’ve faced as a School Principal?
What I find the most frustrating is when my team members don’t share the same values. I expect honesty, collaboration, respect and tolerance and find it difficult when these qualities are missing.
What changes have you made at CdL since your arrival in 2011?
I believe I’ve brought greater stability to the school after five school principals in six years. I’ve tried to organise the school’s leadership through more levels of management and have brought innovations to the curriculum such as the violin programme, which is now being expanded to Grade 3. I have also developed the school’s bilingual programme for our youngest children.
What were your thoughts on SEN support at CdL when you arrived and what changes have you made in this area?
When I arrived, I found plenty of people with SEN qualifications but no organised programmes in place, which made me feel I was letting down the parents due to insufficient support. In my first year, I focused teachers’ Personal Educational Development (PED) on SEN and asked parents to come along and explain the difficulties their children faced. I created additional special needs positions and a more structured programme. We now have three SEN teachers in our secondary school and four in our primary school; a mixture of English and French speakers.
What are your wish list and goals for SEN at CdL?
My wish is to keep developing the SEN programme to cater for, and help integrate, a wider range of children with special needs. I am also looking to increase the concept of caring, with each child being looked at as a person rather than just a student. I would like to open teachers’ minds to the idea all kids are special and for my teachers to adapt their teaching style to what works with each child. In fact, this applies across the whole school, not just for those students with SEN.
What advice would you give to parents including those of children with SEN?
Keep going and keep believing in your child; every child has qualities and potential. Don’t listen to teachers who say your child isn’t working hard enough. See the positive in your child and accept that your child can fail; indeed, mistakes are a fantastic opportunity to learn.
Any notable trends in mainstream and SEN education?
I think there is greater openness and a wider acceptance of those with special needs.
What are your thoughts on ASK-All Special Kids?
I think ASK is doing a fabulous job and should be more supported by the local community. I was therefore delighted to be able to offer ASK the use of CdL this summer for its Annual Summer Camp. I came along to see how the children were getting on, but didn’t disturb them as they were so enthusiastically engrossed in their yoga session!