Meet the Principals
Tara Waudby, ISB Middle School
- Let's start from the beginning. Tell us a bit about your origins.
I'm American but at the same time I am very “non American”. I was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden, although my parents are from Malaysia and the US, so I grew up speaking Swedish and English. In school, my sister and I followed a dual immersion program in both languages. We moved back to the US when I was 10. It was nice to be back in Phoenix, Arizona, where we had a big family, but I very much thought of myself as Swedish, since I had only been a few times in the US before.
In hindsight, I am grateful because this experience has given me a great deal of empathy. I know what it's like to be bicultural and bi-ethnic.
- On the professional side, what has been your path before coming to ISB?
I fell in love with teaching when I was doing my university degree in Psychology. I was pursuing a dual degree and when I did my student teaching, I knew that's what I wanted to do. I also really wanted to go back overseas.
I taught first in Phoenix inner city, which gave me a lot of insight into different cultures. I then moved to Taiwan, a country I didn't know at all, but absolutely fell in love with. I was a teacher there for 5 years. My next destination was the Middle East, where I worked for 16 years in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, shifting from my role as a teacher into school leadership. I was Principal in a High School and then Assistant Superintendent for learning in a group of seven schools in Saudi Arabia comprising 4,500 students. This really gave me the whole school perspective and it was fascinating professionally.
But deep inside I'm a teacher and in the latter roles I worked mainly with teachers and rarely saw children, so I knew that was not a long-term solution for me. I took a job at a much smaller school in Bahrain as Head of School, thinking that I would have much more access to kids, which I did. Then COVID struck and we decided it was time for a change of region.
- What brought you to ISB? What attracted you to take this role?
Interestingly enough, the day before I learnt about the ISB position, I had actually said to my husband that a job as Middle School Principal is the best role in school leadership. My current position as Principal allows me to interact a lot with students every day, and my goal is to continue to work closely with students. I am currently working with a group of kids on the Compassion Summit. Together as a team, we will be looking at what is working well in our systems and what areas can be improved to be a more compassionate school, applying design thinking principles.
Design Thinking is a great tool when you don’t have all the answers, as you can experiment and prototype a plan. We will apply the methodology using empathy interviews and develop a compassionate action plan.
- What are your priorities in your new role as Middle School Principal?
I really like the idea of compassion schools, not just as service outside of school, but also internally in the school, by having school systems that allow for compassion. It may sound simple, but I think it's actually much harder to choose kindness. I truly believe that if we have a compassionate system in schools, from there everything else grows. If we enable kindness in our system, we create places of trust and safety which then inspires courage and agency, leadership and innovation.
I also believe in students and teachers collaborating together. The Middle School years are a great opportunity because kids are in a transition time, and they are constantly changing. As teachers, we have to be excited about that, as it creates space for new exploration. Middle school is a unique time because students have their core skills - the basics from Junior School - and they are not quite yet in the stress of looking at university that's coming later. This is a unique opportunity to really empower them to not just engage in their academics, but help them find what they love doing and how that is going to serve them for life. Help them explore and discover new passions, take advantage of the wide holistic program that we offer and our wellbeing program.
Our kids are leading their learning, they are reflecting, and they're really empowered. They are growing their confidence to follow their dreams with strong social connections. This is the time when we want them to really flourish as human beings.
- What part of your work as Principal do you enjoy most and which aspects have been more challenging ?
I'm enjoying working with children and interacting directly with them. I also enjoy working as part of a system that involves parents and teachers so closely. I've enjoyed getting to know our families and our children and our teachers in different ways. For example, this week we have had a Design Sprint with the 8th graders and it was phenomenal. We had them in small teams of six and they were so into it. The kids were talking as if they were teachers! They know the system; they were redesigning programs, schedules, and plans… I was truly impressed.
There are challenges every day, of course, but our role in leadership is to work closely with students to help them grow and take mistakes as an opportunity to develop their thinking and build positive relationships. It is important to reframe challenges as opportunities for ongoing learning. Ultimately as leaders, our job is to serve students and help to empower their leadership.
- Which part of the ISB Mission resonates most with you?
With no doubt, “We all have fun”. I have the privilege of saying that because the Middle School years are perfect to have fun. Back in my years as an English teacher in Middle School, I would never have encouraged a word as simple as “fun”. And yet, sometimes what we need is strikingly simple in order to realize how true this statement is.
- And from the IB Learners Profile, which aspect do you identify most with?
Probably inquirers because I value curiosity and the whole idea of inquiry and exploration. Making sure that our kids stay curious about the world around them and are interested in learning more is at the core of the MYP. These are the years when kids ask good questions, and you can only ask questions if you're curious.
- Finally, if you could give advice for life to your students, what would it be?
I would say that kindness is cool. Middle school is a time where students worry about what people think of them, and it is hard to be vulnerable, even for adults. Too often, students use sarcasm, teasing or silliness to mask their feelings. I hope we can strive to make kindness cool and recognize that kindness is probably the coolest thing you can be ~ that would be my dream.