How I’ve created a stable environment for staff and students at Byron College

Published on 3rd December, 2019 by Wendy Hartrey. Published in For Candidates / TIC News

Matthew Williams is a Headteacher from the UK who has worked at a variety of international schools across the globe. This year TIC documented how we helped Matthew to find his role as Head of Byron College in Athens, Greece. Matthew has now been at the school for several months, and we recently spoke to him about his new role, the changes he is making, and how he and his family are settling in:

“Byron College has 441 students from 51 different nationalities. The majority of the staff are local Greek teachers, but we also have teachers from the UK, Germany, Lebanon, Australia, Ireland and South Africa. The resources and facilities are what I would expect from any international school, but there’s always room for improvement!

Creating stability through change

Byron College has seen growth of 50% in the past two years, so challenges regarding space come along with this.  One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as the new Head is to create a climate of stability so that all members of staff can grow and improve. Creating stability is a paradox really; first you have to make changes. I’ve adopted a back to basics approach and have simplified all policies and procedures to free teachers up to do what they do best – teach!

Being present as a Head

I believe the key to creating stability in a school is to be available and present; in a small school, it’s essential for the staff and the students. It also gives me first-hand experience and analysis of what is happening on the ground. I’ve also introduced an open-door policy for management to show staff we are available and approachable.

The single most effective strategy I feel I have employed is to welcome all staff, students and parents on the gate each morning and say goodbye to them each afternoon. The little things make big differences and I also ensure that I am out and about at break and lunch time.

I am also working closely with parents and have formed a new PTA. In a small school, it’s important to embrace the role that the parents play, and what they can offer.

Setting expectations

It’s easy to say that you have high expectations but it’s far more effective to show those high expectations first hand. At the start of the new year I delivered a set of lessons to staff to demonstrate exactly what I was expecting from them. I’ve also involved staff from all levels to enable a bottom-up approach, rather than top-down authoritarian method.

Life in Athens

My family are all settled and the girls are doing fantastically well. My wife is the new Drama Teacher at Byron College and my youngest daughter started in the EYFS Nursery class this September. My eldest daughter is now in Year 2 after starting in Year 1 after Easter. She was voted ‘Class Representative’ - I can assure you I was not involved in the process at all!

It’s absolutely fantastic to work and live in Athens. The Greeks are very welcoming people and it was the perfect choice for my family. The beach is only 25 minutes away - say no more.

Advice to Leaders considering an international school placement

The best advice I can give to Leaders is to be open minded. It’s important to recognise from the outset that you are not going to work in a British School, but a British International School. You have to consider the local working culture as it is very different to that in the UK. My advice is to embrace this and work with it to your advantage.”

Read more advice in our latest leadership newsletter

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Wendy Hartrey