RAE LANG has over 30 years’ experience in education – from classroom teaching to leading literacy development and as head of primary schools – in her native New Zealand as well as the UK, Vietnam and Hong Kong. She’s just taken on the role of Elementary Principal at Stamford American School Hong Kong, coming across from Woodland Pre-Schools. We ask about her approach to educational leadership at the elementary school at Stamford and joining the school community.
What attracted you to Stamford?
The school has an authentic focus on wellbeing. You can feel this when you walk down the hallways. Students and staff saying hello and exude the kind of confidence that can only shine when they feel secure in their environment and cared for. There’s a real sense of community too. From the moment I was appointed to the new position, I’ve had parents reach out and welcome me, introduce themselves, and give me warm “hellos” at the front gate.
This extends to students and staff, too. On my third day here, a staff member called out “Good morning, Rae”, as though it was the most natural thing in the world. The senior students also greet you and ask how your day is going, and the elementary students wave excitedly. Seeing their eyes light up as they enter school is heartwarming. These are actions of students who know they belong and feel safe.
What are you excited for with the role at Stamford’s Elementary School in Hong Kong? And what key things will you bring to it?
I’m excited to join Stamford at its seventh-year mark, build upon its solid foundation and embrace all the opportunities to grow our amazing school.
As a leader, I’m driven by the desire to inspire others to be better at getting better. This means helping people to build their capabilities and capacity, so they can be empowered and feel professionally safe to take risks. Recently, I’ve been privileged to lead two cohorts of aspiring middle leaders, teaming up with professional learning platform EduSpark to create a bespoke Aspiring Leaders Programme. Through this intense four-month programme, the group explored different aspects of educational leadership, from team building to conflict, coaching and feedback. I’m pleased to say all participants are working in educational leadership positions.
What will your daily schedule look like as the Elementary School Principal?
As a principal, I think it is important to be visible – to the children, community and staff. This means lots of time visiting classrooms, being with the students, attending assemblies, reading to the classes, and encouraging authentic learning, including providing students with opportunities to present their proposals to me. (Currently, one class is proposing a school pet day!)
I like to create a warm welcoming environment and a sense of belonging. So my office is an open door – it has glass walls, so there are many waves and smiling faces as students move past.
One of my favourite times of the day is the arrival drop-off time. I get to informally chat to the students, check on how they’re doing, and also see the parents. It’s touching to see the unhindered joy the younger students show, the confidence of the older students and the care and pride of older siblings as they bring younger siblings to school.
As Elementary Principal, I also welcome parents to come and chat, share their ideas and feedback. Parents are an important part of our Stamford community and are our partners in their children’s learning. As the African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
When did you decide you wanted to work in education?
I wanted to be a teacher from around the age of seven – I think it was the possibility of writing with coloured chalk! I remember setting up a classroom for my toys, complete with blackboard and homemade individual exercise books, and finding joy in marking their ‘work’, then planning the next steps in their learning goals!
I’d like to think this also inspired my two older sisters to enter into the education sector. Both are senior leaders in the field today, one as Head Teacher in Putney, London, and the other as Year 12 Dean at a prestigious high school in New Zealand.
What have been some of your earlier teaching highlights prior to moving to Hong Kong?
My New Zealand experiences have been wide ranging, from schools in low socio-economic areas, to schools with a rich, traditional farming history. They have also involved culturally diverse communities. I’ve led Kapa Haka groups (Maori cultural performances), with children performing in competitions and community events. Another highlight was organising the 2011 Romanian Rugby World Cup team to visit my school. They got involved in various competitions and sampled local fare, all homemade by our wonderful parent community.
In the international context, as a Year 5 and 6 homeroom teacher in London, I had my class plan, organise and participate in a London city tour, culminating in viewing Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, as part of our art unit. For many in the class, it was their first time in centre of the city – and their first time on the London Underground. Seeing the joy, curiosity and connection the students made was inspirational.
During my three years as Deputy Head at International School Saigon Pearl in Vietnam, I successfully led the school to its initial dual accreditation to the prestigious Council of International Schools and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
What do you enjoy doing in Hong Kong away from your role as Elementary Principal?
Being from New Zealand, I enjoy the outdoors. Hong Kong allows for this passion to continue, with the many hiking trails. I’ve completed the Hong Kong Trail, and am working my way through the MacLehose! (I only have the challenging Section 8 left to complete!)
I’m also an avid reader – I enjoy fiction books, including fantasy, historical fiction and novels that are on the grittier side. My current three favourites are A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson and Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.
I’m also looking forward to the Rugby World Cup. I have high hopes for the All Blacks, though I know my South African, French, English, Welsh and Australian friends may have something to say about this!
This article first appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.