Meet your Principal: Craig Halsall, Nord Anglia International School

Principal of Lower Manhattan

May 26, 2020

Please tell us a little about yourself, your background and what led you into educational leadership.

I have always enjoyed teaching and helping others from a young age, when in fact I placed an advertisement in the local paper and started teaching privately in the UK from the age of 17! I also however loved studying Economics and having taken entrepreneurial and leadership inspiration from my late Grandfather, I was always ambitious for myself and others. It was probably no surprise therefore that acquiring leadership experience within an educational setting always made sense! 

How long have you been with Nord Anglia? Where were you before this?

Well, I did in fact attend a Nord Anglia school many years ago at a time when Nord Anglia had a school presence in the UK. Nord Anglia has come a long way since then with 57 schools worldwide now, and so it was great to be able to join such a successful educational company that I had in fact targeted as my next professional move. I was therefore delighted to arrive as Principal of the Nord Anglia International School New York school in 2017. I was previously Headmaster of a prestigious UK based boarding school in Almaty, Kazakhstan. I loved my four years in Kazakhstan and tried to bring my experiences from there, and previously Kuwait and the UK, to this wonderful school in New York. 

How would you describe your leadership style?

I am very confident that if you were to ask others they would say “pacesetter”. There are certainly large elements of truth in that, mostly as I took my inspiration from my Grandfather who built a successful family business having started from absolutely nothing. I learned from him that you have to work hard for improvement and success, and this is something anyone can do regardless of their innate abilities! I have worked exceptionally hard to also be a consultative, open and transparent leader as I have learned that this helps bring a balance to pacesetting, whilst getting the best from others too!

What is Nord Anglia’s philosophy? Teaching style? How do you encourage that kind of culture?

Be Ambitious! We are ambitious for our students, staff and parents! A Nord Anglia education is one that ensures a strong UK / International based curriculum, the very best teachers (mostly from the UK due to our curriculum) and supported by collaborations including Juilliard, MIT, UNICEF and Kings College London that emulate our desire to “learn from the best”. 

Our teaching style combines an effective balance between being highly structured and personalized. We have exceptionally high standards and encourage our students to develop high order thinking skills. Learning in our school is driven by ambitious learning objectives, well planned and resources activities that ensure all of our students are challenged! That is the key! 

We believe strongly in this approach as it ensures our students progress at a significantly faster pace than students in similar schools elsewhere and in the UK. We also know that our parents and students are happy with our approach with 97% of parents stating they are very happy with academic progress and their children are happy to come to school. 

What advice would you give a new teacher in his or her first year?

Three things: 

1. To use every conceivable method to get to know and understand your students as well as you can! 

2. To carefully plan learning activities that are most likely to engage and challenge your students. 

3. To think carefully about how formative and summative assessment informs future planning – and never assess students for the sake of it. 

What steps would you take if you are dealing with a student discipline incident?

Without doubt, the first thing is not to jump to any conclusions regardless of who the incident involves. I always demand that we act quickly and decisively to gather as much information as possible from different sources (this may only always be necessary of course!), but to ensure achieve the optimal balance between “consequences” and addressing the core issue that caused an incident too. This enables a fair outcome is achieved whilst working with students to understands and improve their actions in the longer term to be successful citizens in our community. 

How do you recruit and maintain quality teachers and staff members?

We are very lucky as we are based in New York and part of the Nord Anglia global family of 57 premium schools. Teachers from within other Nord Anglia schools and others want to work for us for these reasons. We have the enviable position of having around 120 applicants for each teaching post and so we really are able to select the best of the best! 

We aim to constantly develop and retain the best staff through a wide range of strategies including 50 fully funded Masters Degrees via Kings College London, high-quality training and resources provided via our online Nord Anglia University platform and a strong commitment to continuous professional development locally too. 

Finally, Nord Anglia are committed to developing staff voice and so we report on and form strong action plans that reflect our staff views every year. This helps ensure everyone’s ideas and opinions are valued, which really helps us to motivate and retain our best staff! 

What are some of your family favorite events that you host? Do you host any that are open to the public?

We pride ourselves on our community spirit – and so honestly there’s a lot to mention here! I perhaps personally most enjoy hosting Halloween celebrations as this is such a big celebration in the US (even more so than at home in the UK!), as it brings everyone together to have a lot of fun. That’s is what school is about – bringing together staff, parents and students as one! 

Please tell us what makes your school unique from others in the area?

The biggest thing would be our official collaborations – especially the Juilliard collaboration if I had to choose one! (although MIT, UNICEF and Kings College are great too!). Having Juilliard on our doorstep here in NY brings such significant advantages for our students every week. Our full time Performing Arts staff are all Juilliard trained too, the students benefit from the Juilliard creative online classroom (which also has cross curricular benefits) and we are able to benefit from the highly talented Juilliard alumni who visit and perform at our school on a regular basis. 

Being part of the global network of premium schools is, honestly, transformational for our staff and students. I think all educators aim to identify and adopt best practice in their own schools, and whilst education has come a long way in developing collaboration between schools, barriers including competition, geography and educational philosophy often prevent a truly free flow of information and strategies that can benefit students in other schools. 

Being part of a group of schools globally bring tangible benefits through opportunities to collaborate and come together online and through many events including through our Global Online Campus, Global Games and Nord Anglia University to mention but a few! As Principals, we also come together at least three per year with our annual SLT conference in Switzerland, our annual OTOS conference and recruitment event (Outstanding Teachers, Outstanding Schools) and our Americas regional conference in Florida. These opportunities enable me to build trusting relationships with many Principals and professionals who are always happy to share ideas, information and strategies within a safe non-threatening context. It’s magical and I always used to dream of; now it’s a reality! 

Finally, our personalized approach to high-quality educational outcomes is impressive too! There are many great schools in New York, but I feel our small class sizes and high-quality teachers help us provide the very best education. All our international and local parents forever comment on the quality of education their children receive at our school. 

Strong leaders are constantly learning. What is a great book or resource that has helped you grow and that you would recommend to others?

Clive Woodward’s “Winning” is possibly the standout book I’ve ever read! 

I loved how although it was all about Rugby and how England would prepare for their next World Cup with their new manager Clive Woodward, there was so much about building success off the field as there was on the field. Building a philosophy of continuous improvement from day one, paying attention to all details to improve every aspect of English Rugby by one per cent makes the difference in the short and longer-term. This book tells that inspirational story culminating with the most incredible crescendo of a conclusion with the final kick of the Final of the World Cup in 2003! That final kick, with just 26 seconds of the final remaining, was the product of everything Clive did from his first day as manager in 1997. Inspiration defined. 

We want to get to know you a little better. Let’s play a round of quick questions. Tell us the first thing that comes to your mind:

Where are you originally from? A town in the North of England called Southport. 

Do you have kids? How old are they? Of course – I am Principal of a school! I have five aged 5, 12, 13, 18 and 23! 

In which Hogwarts house would you be sorted? Slytherin according to my son, Josh, because I’d be evil and set more homework for everyone! 

Your favorite movie? 13 hours. (A true story of how you be successful against all the odds)

Your hidden talent? Hmmmmmm, I am not sure if I have any of those, unfortunately! 

What is your dream vacation? Dubai (Still – even though I have been several times!)

What would the students be surprised to find out about you? I used to be a Magistrate in the UK! 

What’s a typical Saturday night like for you? Eating out with my family 

How do you spend your summer breaks? Traveling and visiting friends and family 

What are your “trapped on a desert island” books or movies? “How to build a boat by….” No, only kidding! My favorite book would be “Winning” by Clive Woodward and my favorite movie would be “Shawshank Redemption”

What is your favorite dessert? That’s difficult but I think it has to be sticky toffee pudding with hot custard (although I am sure that’s perhaps more something I see on menus at home than here in the US).

What accomplishment fills you with pride? Any ambitious ‘project’ that requires a vision. There have been one or two so far in my career, but I’d probably say helping to grow a family educational business in the UK to double in size in just four years after 27 years of existence was amongst them!  

Do you have a morning routine that gets you ready for school? Yes! I get up at 4:45 am, have breakfast and cycle 5 miles to school where I drop my bike off and go to the gym before school starts at 7:15 am. 

What inspires you? Following in my Grandfather’s footsteps to show others how never giving up is the only way. 

What is the best thing about being a principal? Working in education with children, but also all elements of business with marketing, finance, operations and HR issues. I love the multi-faceted role of being Principal.  

Any advice you would like your students to remember, always? Always try and then reflect on how you can improve next time around

A gift from your student/s that you value the most? Anything that can be eaten or drank! (hence why I need to go to the gym in the mornings!)

Is there a quote or saying that you live your life by? No, not really. I just focus on ensuring we end every day in a stronger position that when we started it. No excuses. 

What song do you know all the lyrics to? You’ll Never Walk Alone (Liverpool FC anthem!)

Your favorite Spirit Day in school is… We don’t have spirit days as such, but I’d say our MIT “Wow” days where we launch the next phase of our MIT collaboration, is amazing. 

Please offer some words of wisdom for the rest of us.

Just work together to improve everything! We listen to everyone and everything, even if sometimes we may not agree. Evaluate everything and consider alternatives – the way it’s always been is not always the best way. Set ambitious goals, never give up and keep everything moving forward towards our goals! 

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