The Elmwood family is very pleased to announce the appointment of James Whitehouse as Elmwood’s new Head of School.
Prior to his new appointment, James was the Deputy Head of the Middle and Senior Schools, a role he had held since 2012. Selected as Head of School for his impressive professional background, including an understanding of cutting-edge trends in education and in-depth knowledge of the challenges young women will face in the future, James also brings personal traits of integrity, empathy, strong communication and interpersonal skills to his new role.
Married to Nicola, an OCSB Vice Principal, and Canadian who grew up in Ottawa, the couple are proud parents of a son, Oliver (8) and daughter, Isla (6) who attends Elmwood in Grade 1.
A self-described “happy-go-lucky” kid, James and his two brothers grew up in the heart of Europe, starting on a British military base in Germany, where his father was hired to be a headteacher at British military schools. James estimates that the family moved about eight to ten times, making him extremely adaptable.
Reasons provided by James, for choosing his mother as his inspiration, provide further insight into how he was shaped into the man he is today. “Mum was with us all the time and gave us all the love in the world. She is a social being whose whole attitude to life was having fun and she wanted us to see the world. She has also always been a strong, powerful teacher, who started schools on the base herself.”
Prior to joining Elmwood, James was an Assistant Head at Seven Kings High School in Redbridge, London, one of the top twelve state schools in the United Kingdom.
Originally brought to Elmwood by former Head of School, Cheryl Boughton, to improve the standards of teaching, James gives a lot of credit to the United Kingdom’s educational system for teaching him the value of placing high standards on things. “In the UK you are inspected by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, who has the power to close a school during an inspection if they feel that that the school is not fulfilling its duty. This inevitably improves the quality of teaching and having that professional up-bringing made me an excellent teacher.”
One of his first contributions to Elmwood was a large supply of doorstops. “The goal was to create an open culture where the classroom becomes just a place where a teacher happens to be teaching at that time. Where people are welcome to enter and exit, as long as they do not disrupt the learning. People still laugh because there are doorstops everywhere.”
The institutor of a peer review system at Elmwood, he encourages teachers to observe each other in the classroom and provide feedback. “In England, I was used to having four to five people in my classroom every day. There was a bit of nervousness when we started this practice here, but soon the staff recognized it as a good thing that would only make them better educators.”
Earlier years of teaching in schools where students had very little, often returning home to extreme poverty, also taught James so much about the value of education and the importance of forgiveness. “Every day is a fresh start and a new opportunity to do better. I believe in letting people know that it is okay to make mistakes and that my door is always open. I want everyone who leaves my office to feel better than when they arrived.”
When it comes to listing the personal traits he brings to Elmwood, James humbly suggests asking others for their input. “I think I am good at building trust, community, and making people feel valued. I have been described as a diplomat, capable of bringing people together to create an understanding and way forward. I would like to think I am a good listener and hope to bring a sense of calm.”
As to his weaknesses, “Some people say that I am too kind but, I am okay with that. My biggest bugbear is when people say that you have to be strict and authoritarian. I have worked in some of the toughest schools and you don’t have to be that way. You just have to get respect and that comes from being fair and consistent.” Angered by, “So little really.” James will not tolerate unkindness at any level or bad behaviour in connection to the school. “I don’t believe that we have to accept that destructive habits are just part of being a normal teenager. It comes back to teaching the importance of having respect for yourself and others.”
Asked what it is he loves about Elmwood, he smiles. “There is some sort of magic here. I walk in every day and kids ask me how I am and what is going on in my life. They care about each other and I love seeing connections form between people who are so different. It is like a family where people love the kids and the kids love them back.”
Finding joy in seeing the girls show up each morning, often tumbling out of cars with multiple bags, musical instruments and wet hair, James marvels at just how much they love to learn. “They are leaders and so smart. They also come here with a sense of knowing that they are not yet a finished product and are on this journey together. Nobody has to be closed or hide who they are. There is very little fear of trying new things or how that will be perceived. They are just amazing, normal kids.”
The qualities he strives to instill in Elmwood’s students are the same ones chosen for his own two children. “You have to be kind and have respect for yourself and others and be a part of a community. My unwavering expectation is kindness, which is sometimes really hard to give. What is important in life is how we represent ourselves to each other. Not just what you achieve and don’t achieve but the impact you leave on people’s lives.”
As a former professional rugby player for the Wasps Rugby Football Club, James also encourages each Elmwood student to experience playing on a team, at any level. “My key values in life came from sport. It taught me hard work, confidence, respect, risk-taking, resilience and what it takes to be a friend. Sport also takes you away from every other distraction, such as technology, and requires the use of life’s most important communication skills.”
If possible, he would give each Elmwood graduate the gift of, “confidence, with a splash of humility as it will, “open any door.” He also wishes graduates an understanding of themselves and what unique strengths they bring to the table.
Calling New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, “one of the world’s most influential leaders,” James would like to see more women involved in politics and other global professions to ensure the conversations, products, policies and programs shaping our society, include the voices and perspectives of women.
"We want girls to go into the world empowered and with the skills and tools to do whatever they want. If I can shout louder or push their case, I always will. For me, it is about who cares enough about these girls to help them realize their dreams. I just reached one of my dreams, to be the Head of School, which has been my goal since becoming an educator.”
Looking forward to the new school year and all that is ahead, James cannot wait for the first bell to ring. “I like to think of the future vision of the school as being our vision and not my vision. I am a high believer that it is us and not me and that I am just lucky enough to steer the ship.
Elmwood has huge potential in terms of its footprint in the world. Right now, we are known for being a very successful amazing place and I would like the school to continue building on that reputation nationally and internationally so that every girl has even greater opportunities.
I am so inspired by the people I work with each day and grateful to those who have gone before leaving Elmwood in a position of strength. It is, however, our students who are the most important to me as I take on this exciting role. My commitment is to them and the brighter future that we will all create together. I am just excited for where the school can go.”