Sherrierose Garcia Gonzales
Middle-High School Principal
BINUS SCHOOL – Serpong
This week’s School Voice is with Sherrierose Garcia Gonzales, Middle-High School Principal at BINUS School – Serpong. Located near Jakarta, BINUS School – Serpong is a Cambridge International School with 1,100 students in the upper classes. This week’s post is part one in a series.
It Takes a Village
One of my favorite quotes is “it takes a village to raise a child.” I think that’s the most apt description of raising a person. As a school, it is very important for us that all the stakeholders are involved. The school will not keep moving forward if there are some people who lack confidence in the direction, especially parents. If parents don’t believe in what is happening at the school, there’s going to be a lot of resistance. As parents, we want a lot of things for our kids, and sometimes the things we want may not exactly align with the direction of the school. That’s why I always lay the cards down on the table, and say “this is who we are, this is what we have. If you think this is what you want for your kids, then please join us.”
Big Hormones with Feet
I look at my own team of educators, and I see that our biggest challenge is that we are raising teenagers. Like it or not, it’s not so much about teaching math or teaching chemistry; it’s more about how you actually raise kids along the way when you teach these subjects. Why? Because teenagers are big hormones with feet. And that’s a big challenge on top of everything else. There’s a lot of guiding, there’s a lot of talking that needs to be done in between the learning. I have sharing sessions with my students’ parents where I say “just be there for your kids.”
We do not want parents to pass that responsibility to somebody else. Because kids see, hear, and feel parents who believe “it’s the teacher’s fault,” or “it’s your classmate’s fault” rather than talking about what actually happened. If those conversations do not happen, if nobody at home is anchoring them, kids feel that it’s either their fault or it’s somebody else’s fault.
If they get into a fight, it’s better to ask “why did you get into a fight?” Or if their grades are low, ask them “what’s making it difficult for you?”
Making Sure the Kids are Anchored
Remember, they were used to being anchored by their parents when they were young. When I see parents dropping off early childhood and primary school kids, it’s always like a production number. First they take out the backpack and they help them put it on, then they kiss mommy and daddy, then they straighten their uniforms. It takes about ten minutes to get them inside the school!
But when they’re older, it’s totally different. Although the kids do not want their parents hanging behind their backs, they’re still kids at the end of the day. The reason for having a strong parental engagement is to really make sure that kids are anchored all around, whether it’s coming from the home, school, or outside in the community. They need to know where they stand; they need to know who they are. And later on, when they have to make the tough decisions in life, they will be able to rely on that strong foundation.
Helping Students Make Good Choices
I think a lot of teenagers don’t realize that it’s actually fine not to be so fixed at this point in their lives. Parents have a lot of expectations of their children, “you must be a doctor, you must be an engineer, you must know this, you must know that.” And if kids aren’t yet at this point, they feel it’s their fault; they feel that they can’t make other choices. For us, one of the biggest challenges is to make sure that the kids are OK: That when they leave the school, even if they’re not yet seeing their destiny as lawyers, pilots, or doctors, they know they can still be productive, and that they still have lots of other choices and opportunities. It’s just a matter of finding the ones that fit them.
I tell the juniors and seniors “OK, start making choices.” If, at the end of the day, they still haven’t made a choice, I will say “OK, think about what you can live with, it’s OK, choose that,” because once you get to university, your mind might still change. I’ve had friends who’ve changed their minds midway; I am personally a product of changing my mind midway. I was studying pre-medicine and I realized in my third year at university that I wanted to do education. So I shifted, and here I am.
One of the things that we have always emphasized in school is being able to leverage our diversity, to make sure the students can benefit by harnessing their collective differences. Our school is non-denominational. When we do class assignments, we are careful to look at the religion and gender and attempt to balance them as much as possible. So that’s one way we break down the barriers. As they start mixing with different people, they really do not pay attention to what the vital statistics are. And I think the benefit they get is the ability to actually look at people and situations in a more open way.
Being a Female School Leader
When they saw the succession of female students to leadership roles, one of the board members of this school made the comment that it was probably because of me being a female leader. Out of all the student council presidents we’ve had, only two have been male. Most of the student executive team are also female. That doesn’t happen by chance; actually, there are more male students in the school.
I think our school has been influenced by having a female leader. That’s why it’s very important for me to raise good leaders. It has a lot of impact on what’s going to happen next. Indonesia is a largely Muslim country and largely male-dominated. Over time, the male students have become OK with having female students leave them; they don’t perceive it as a competition. When they go out into society, they will take that with them.