Those who can, do
Ronald Stones OBE: the “can do” man
British international education in South East Asia has been grown rapidly for some time . We meet Ron Stones, one of the most influential British school leaders over the last 30 years, look back on his career and ask about his next project.
Few people can have had more influence on the development of British International Education than Ron Stones. In three successive headships at schools which emerged as powerhouses in the British International movement, the British School of Manila, the British International School of Jakarta (as it was then) and Tanglin Trust School, Singapore. He was the person who showed how to take the right kind of calculated risks, guide the project through choppy waters and bring it to a resounding success. In the process he showed the world how to respond to the growing demand for British Education on a grander scale than ever attempted, especially in the expanding economies of South East Asia at the turn of the millennium.
ITM caught up with Ron in a reflective mood. He’s recently written his autobiography, Reflexions, in which his twin loves of learning and the arts shine through. It’s not surprising, then, that much of his educational thinking rests on the concept of “creativity”. Those who have worked with him will know that he was talking about the importance of the idea in schools a long time before it became fashionable to do so.
Creativity and awareness
“The school environment is all-important. Everybody is affected by what they see, what they hear, what they touch and even what they can smell.”
After more than thirty years in tropical South East Asia, he talks of the depth of the cultural experience he has enjoyed and was able to share with students and colleagues.
“As soon as I heard the gamelan I knew how important it would be in my life. Those amazing, echoing sounds are the haunting backdrop to the rice fields of Bali and the kampungs of Java. They should be celebrated in every school in South East Asia – and beyond!”
Click to play the Gamelan as you read.
And in his schools, students and staff learned to play the gamelan, and never forgot the experience. In any new school design where Stones has led the project, you’ll also find carefully chosen homage to local culture, either in carefully arranged detailing or on a grand scale in a sky-line or façade.
“It all contributes to the community’s understanding and respect of the country” he argues. “Striking a balance between practicality and beauty is central to a school’s design”.
Nowhere is this seen better than in his landscape design – shrubs, grasses, plants, trees carefully selected and arranged to soothe and delight the senses.
“But it was only when I became the Director of Green School in Bali did I fully appreciate the fundamental impact of the environment on teaching and learning. When a sense of balance with nature is achieved, relationships are more harmonious between different groups regardless of background, culture, creed, religion or age. Behaviour is more sensitive, and creativity stimulated”
Not surprisingly these ideas have affected his approach to leadership, with the idea of “creative leadership” at core of his thinking. Also not surprisingly, perhaps, he thinks people who are serious about leadership (and he is!) should think about it in beautiful surroundings, as those who have experienced seminars in the exquisite meeting room he has established in the rice fields near Ubud will attest.
And the most important aspect of “Creative Leadership”?
“Undoubtedly empowering followers in their own creative approaches. Creative Leadership also involves taking risks, thinking about solutions to problems and issues from different angles, and developing ways of doing things innovatively. Confidence is also essential – people have to have the confidence to sell their ideas – big or small – to others once they are convinced of the right thing to do.”
The approach is epitomised by his “can do” attitude. Once he is of a mind that something is worth doing, he’ll convince others, who then bring all their creative energy to the task in hand.
The arts and the next project
But if you engage with Ron Stones for any length of time, the “can do man” will always enthuse about the next project, which in 2017 is the establishment of a new kind of school in Singapore, working with leading education company, Crestar:
“My role is to lead a project in creating a pilot international school in Singapore – The Grange Academy – which can be used as a model to be replicated in other countries in Asia”
He has big ambitions for the role of the arts, and in particular the idea of the “artist/creator in residence.” Look out for a programme with a very special “wow” factor when the school opens in September.
And now he’s looking for teachers . . . .
If you are a creative Early Years or Primary teacher, and would like to find out more about working at The Grange Academy, please click the artist’s palette.
Feature Image: Pixabay