A Conversation with Our New Section Heads

Primary, Secondary

As we begin the new school year, we’d like to introduce our new Section Heads, Dan Slevin and Jess Davey.

While Dan joins us from Turkey to take over as the new Head of Primary, Jess will be the Head of Secondary after a long (and going strong!) association with the FIS.

We sat down with both of them to talk about their backgrounds, education philosophies, and plans for the year.

FIS: What has been your journey and career path so far?

Dan: Back in High School itself, I knew I was going to be a teacher.

After my graduation in educational studies and music, I developed a keen curiosity for countries and cultures, which led me to my first job teaching English in South Korea. Here, I had the chance to teach students from three to 18 years, and I realized that while I enjoyed teaching all age ranges, Primary was really what I loved the most. I then worked in a really rewarding role at a public school in Gangnam, Seoul for a few years until eventually, I was itching to spend some time as a homeroom teacher responsible for every area of the Primary curriculum and the wellbeing of every student in a class.

This led me to study for a PGCE in England as well as a chance to reconnect with family and friends. I stayed in my hometown for 5 years as a primary school teacher in what was a transformative period of my educational career. As much as l enjoyed being an active member of my home community, I wanted to experience life overseas again and move into the international school sector. I found a wonderful teaching position at an IPC school in South Korea where I gradually took on different roles and responsibilities throughout the school such as Head of Infant School and later, Vice Principal. After five years I decided to seek a new challenge and moved to a PYP school in Istanbul as Deputy Principal.

After two years, when I was looking for a new challenge, I checked the FIS website which I had bookmarked a few years prior when I was leading an IPC school and the innovations here then had caught my eye. I could see the FIS was an independent, learning-focused, future-thinking school. I could see that the Head of Primary position and the way it is integrated to the wider SLT at the FIS was a role perfect for my skills and disposition. To be here now working with the students, teachers and increasingly the parents, is a real delight.

Jess: I think my philosophy on education and learning is shaped by a deep appreciation for different languages and cultures. One thing that contributed to this was that I grew up in a naturally bilingual environment in Wales. I also had an extra language in the family, German from my grandma. This love for languages led me to learn many of them in school.

After graduating, I took a gap year to volunteer and teach English in Mexico (mainly to improve my Spanish). That was the start of my foray into education, and it took me to many different countries for various teaching assignments.

I went on to be a Modern Foreign Languages teacher teaching French, German and Spanish, followed by doing a Masters in Leadership.

I joined the FIS in 2014 as an EAL teacher, and subsequently headed the EAL department. Over the years I have had many responsibilities including joining the Senior Leadership Team in school year 21/22 as the Head of Academic Affairs. One area I could get involved in was the CIS/NEASC accreditation, which gave me a chance to visit lots of schools and see from a whole school perspective how they grow and develop.

As I was looking for the next step, the position for Head of Secondary came up and I went for it. It’s really important for me to develop the whole child. And this role allows me to support the students’ holistic development.

FIS: Tell us more about your respective roles and responsibilities. 

Dan: The simplest way to explain my role at the FIS is that I am the go-to person for Primary School. My job is to be there for all the students, teachers, and parents, and to build connections and community.

At the same time, I’m also thinking about how to improve the day-to-day operations by developing long-term strategies. In that capacity, I collaborate with the various stakeholders within and outside of the Primary School.

Adding to this, I’m responsible for being a Primary-focused voice in the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) to ensure representation and active dialogue. To that end, Jessica and I work closely to align and piggyback off each other’s ideas.

Jess: My role is to make sure everything across Secondary School runs smoothly on a day-to-day basis. Everyone should feel safe and supported.

In addition to aligning school-wide strategies, both Dan and I want to be going into as many classrooms as possible. It’s always important to remember to keep student learning at the forefront and make sure you’re actually connecting with many people.

FIS: What are you looking forward to in the new year?

Dan: One priority I am mindful of at the moment is building community post COVID. This means getting people back in the school, and also getting the school out in the community. Primary School is such a magical part of every child’s life, so this is a great chance to forge new connections.

I am quickly learning the individual brilliance of each teacher in the school as we get to know each other. I am very excited to champion each and every one of them and to support them so that we draw ideas and share skills collaboratively for the development of the school and the improvement of teaching and learning.

Jess: This year, we can once again have residential field trips. That’s great for building relationships with the grade levels and getting students to experience new places.

Another thing I’m excited about is the development of the school’s values. They are still work in progress and will help review as a whole school community how we feel we are as a school. We can use this learning to inform what the next five years will look like as part of the upcoming strategic plan.

FIS: How have the last two weeks in your roles been so far?

Dan: It seems I’ve been here for a while. In June, the school brought me in for a week to learn the ropes and meet the team. I’ve also been attending weekly SLT meetings remotely so I already feel well integrated into the role.

As the students are now back on campus, I’m loving the energy. All colleagues are really supportive, and I have to say that it’s such a warm place to work at. This level of collaboration is essential in a top international school.

Jess: It’s been a joy. There is a lot of rapport among the staff with everyone reconnecting, exchanging notes, and getting ready for the new school year. People have been checking in with each other. I can see a strong sense of empathy. The last two weeks have been great, and there is much to look forward to.

We wish both Dan and Jess a terrific start to the year and all the best in their new responsibilities.

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