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NJIS Provides Quality Teaching Team for Better Learning

Gerald Donovan, Head of School at North Jakarta Intercultural School (NJIS)
Gerald Donovan, Head of School at North Jakarta Intercultural School (NJIS)

“Schools need to teach for the world of 2040 – not the 1900s – and students learn best from teachers who are clear, connected, and caring,” conveyed Gerald Donovan, Head of School at North Jakarta Intercultural School (NJIS) when chatting with Indonesia Expat.

Hi, Gerald! We’d like to know more about you.
Dengan senang hati! My name is Gerald Donovan, a lifelong learner who’s mostly found either reading a challenging novel or trying to master a new language in my spare time. I’m an Irish citizen living in Indonesia for the past 22 years, originally as an English, Economics, and Business Management teacher and, for the last 12 years, as a Head of School. At this stage, perhaps I’m no longer an expat since I’ve now spent more of my lifetime in Indonesia than in my home country, Ireland. A fun fact is that I travelled solo from Bogor to Sumbawa by motorcycle a few years ago.

Share your thoughts on expat life in Jakarta.
A single-year contract brought me here but soon after, I met my wife. I’ve seen so many changes that it’s almost like having lived in multiple countries. Watching Indonesia’s development in infrastructure, governance, and mindset has been genuinely exciting. The improving ease of running a school has come from the education department’s clearer communication of expectations in recent years and engagement between the education department and international schools have also improved drastically.

Briefly tell us about NJIS.
NJIS was established in 1990 to guarantee the availability of international education in North Jakarta. NJIS has worked with families and faculty to create an exciting new vision and mission in the last three years. We’ve completed a transition to becoming a full International Baccalaureate (IB) Continuum School (for Primary, Middle, and High School) and we are also authorised by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) from the US.

Please complete this sentence: The reasons why you should choose NJIS are…..                                   

I believe every family needs to consider their own hopes and expectations when selecting a school. To slightly rephrase, I would say: “You should enrol your children at NJIS if….”,

  • You believe students learn best when they’re emotionally supported and socially engaged by teachers who care about their wellbeing.
  • You believe your kids learn best when they understand the purpose of their learning, not merely taking a test at the end of a unit but applying their knowledge and skills to real-life situations.
  • You think your kids learn best when they have autonomy, with their teachers coaching them on how to think for themselves and arrive at solutions through their reasoning.

Is there anything new at NJIS?
We have been working hard on how we support students both academically and social-emotionally in the wake of the pandemic and we now have weekly check-ins with every student to develop an individual learning plan to support them in readjusting to face-to-face school again. We are providing opportunities for our students to work with Ivy League universities and students to give them the exposure they need. Experiential learning – whether online or in person – is how students learn best, and we are creating learning experiences that really shift away from the textbook and the worksheet and into the real world through projects outside the school, expert visits and interviews, and really engaging with the surrounding community.

What can parents and students expect from NJIS as the only IB Continuum School in North Jakarta?
I coached school football teams for many years. I like to use the analogy of “match practice” when discussing how we use the IB at NJIS. When coaching a football team, you spend one-third of the time on drills – passing, tackling, heading, shooting, etc. You spend two-thirds of the time playing an actual game of football. This is where the real learning happens and what you learned in the drills can be applied to the actual situation. The coach stands on the sidelines, watches, comments, stops the game to give feedback, supports, and challenges the players but – most importantly – lets them play the game! Schools today unfortunately spend most of the time in classes on drilling; practising multiplication, using the present tense, etc. Students aren’t having enough real match practices. That isn’t how the brain learns best. Neuroscience shows us that we learn best in context. Some time on drills may be necessary to sharpen specific skills, but real learning occurs when students understand the purpose of their learning and use their skills and knowledge to solve real-world problems.

What does being an educator mean to you? Schools need to be preparing students for the world of 2040.  In the 1900s, it made sense for schools to look like factories because in most cases, schools were
preparing people to work in manufacturing. But educators cannot keep preparing students for the past. As an educator in 2022, one needs to be teaching in a way that reflects real life. The curriculum must be taught through projects and investigations that solve real-life problems. Educational research shows students perform best when teachers give them autonomy. Students learn best when their teachers believe in their abilities and when teachers are competent and clear in their directions and assignments. Thus, NJIS takes care and deliberation bringing new teachers and invests time and effort into developing a skilful team. I really do miss being in the classroom and I try – and sometimes succeed – to spend most of my day in classrooms. An effective Head of School spends at least 40 percent of the day in the classroom or the corridors, supporting students and teachers.

Do you have a message regarding your biggest lesson learned from being a Head of School for over a decade?
The best school is all about having the best teaching team – three pillars make a great teacher:

  • Subject Expertise – you need to know the subject well to teach it
  • Teaching Expertise – great teachers know how to transfer skills and knowledge creatively
  • Social-Emotional Intelligence – kids learn best from teachers they like and who make them feel safe and cared for.

Gerald, what’s next for you and NJIS?
Our school is growing thanks to word-of-mouth from our wonderful parent community. We’re currently in the planning stages for new classrooms for the following school year for our growing community. I hope to be here for the long haul and witness our continued growth as Jakarta’s leading international school.

Personally, my youngest daughter just graduated and is about to start her first year at University in Utrecht. My wife and I, being new empty nesters, are currently adjusting to this new adventure. We recently created a bucket list of things to do, including visiting Raja Ampat and Komodo island!

You’ve stayed in Medan, Bogor, and now Jakarta. Which city has won your heart?
It’s hard to pick a favourite. Medan has some of the best culinary options in Indonesia and is close to some of the most beautiful spots in the world. Bogor was my home for 16 years and was where both of my daughters grew up, cultivating lots of fond memories for us of the Kota Hujan or rainy city. Three years in Jakarta have been incredible too. I’m greatly enjoying the extra greenery, the boulevards, and the great F&B spots, and have developed a fondness for cycling around on weekends after moving from Kelapa Gading to Menteng. Commuting to NJIS is surprisingly quick, which benefits our new students coming from central.

How can our readers get in touch with you and NJIS?
Find out more about NJIS or schedule a visit by contacting [email protected] or +628119278887. Reach me at [email protected] to ask me anything and learn more about the NJIS approach to Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose in Education and how we discover excellence in every child.

The upcoming Open House events fall on 10th September and 15th October 2022 at
9am. Please contact us to join!

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