Australian educator Jaki Graham, junior school principal at the International School of Hamburg, helps children to embark on a voyage of learning.
How many people work for your school in Hamburg?
The International School of Hamburg is the oldest international school in Germany and was founded in 1957. Currently, we have more than 780 students and +160 highly qualified faculty and administration staff coming from more than 50 nations.
Is there any charity organization that your school supports?
ISH bases its educational approach on creating a learning environment where students can grow to become citizens of the world actively engaged in promoting those principles defined by the UN Declaration of Human Rights. We aim to deliver well-rounded education for our students – one that neither begins nor ends in the classroom alone, and includes social, moral, and emotional growth as well as providing our learners the opportunity to engage in our local and global community and act to make a positive difference to the lives of others and to the environment. Accordingly, we run international projects, in Sri Lanka and Tanzania, and we support children locally through our “Kids4Kids” initiative.
Which characteristic do you value most in your staff?
Positive attitude, integrity and a beginner’s mindset where one is always willing to be reflective and grow. These are key qualities that I prioritise in my own personal and professional life. I believe that modeling these valued characteristics helps support a positive and healthy work environment.
Which principles have you found useful?
Building a culture focused on trust, kindness and wellbeing has been most useful for the work I do. “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.” is a quote I hold quite dear and try to follow as consistently as possible. From my experience of leading students, adults and various teams, trust, kindness, and wellbeing are essential elements for an innovative, positive environment. Sometimes, people immediately see these elements as a sign of weakness or an unnecessary luxury. However, they are the opposite – they each require an immense amount of strength. It’s the paradox of vulnerability and bravery. One cannot be brave without being vulnerable. Advocating for kindness and the wellbeing of our students, staff and parents is a bumpy road. However, I choose to see this as an endurance event, and will continue to pace myself.
What did you want to become as a child?
When I was a child, I always wanted to become a teacher, but as a teenager finishing school, I did not seem ready to go into education. Instead, I chose to go to university to study Business in Tourism. Not surprisingly, I changed my mind after a year and completed a Bachelor of Fine Art. Later, I did get into education and discovered that I totally loved teaching and learning with students.
Where do you consider home?
Hamburg is “my Perle”, but Australia will always be my home.
What do you like about having Hamburg as the location for your school?
Hamburg is a real metropolitan city because of its long history with the port. Our school also embraces the maritime theme as a ship is in our logo and our motto is “Embark on a Voyage of Learning”. For our International School, we really appreciate the wide variety of international businesses here in Hamburg that attract international families.
Any advice for people embarking on a career?
• Don’t let fear make your decisions. Be brave with your decisions and believe in your potential.
• Take action, one step at a time and don’t overthink things.
• Reflect on your mistakes, they are a part of life and are the stepping stones to success.
• When things go wrong in your life, it’s your comeback that counts.
AND most importantly…
• Be kind, you never know someone else’s story. We can ALWAYS be kind.
What do you particularly like about Hamburg?
I really love the massive mature trees, their variety and the beautiful architecture of Hamburg’s buildings and homes. I love the outdoor lifestyle where cycling is acceptable and being able to run for long distances is possible with the long paths and many parks. Hamburg has a wonderful outdoor and cosmopolitan lifestyle!
Apart from Hamburg, which are your three favourite cities worldwide?
Sydney, New York and all the cities and places that I still need to discover.
Your job is very time-consuming … What is your idea of a perfect weekend?
The perfect balance of running outdoors along the Elbe with the fresh breeze and possibly some sunshine, entertaining conversations with friends over delicious food and wine. Perhaps also time to explore a unique place in Hamburg.
You have one wish. What do you wish for?
I wish for every single person to be kinder to themselves, daily. What a beautifully peaceful and sustainable planet this would be…
Who would you like to have dinner with?
Albert Einstein. Many of his quotes inspire me daily personally and professionally in the field of education and leadership. Some of the ones I have shared with colleagues related to education include:
• Genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work
• Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think
• A person who never made a mistake never tried anything
• New imagination is the highest form of research
What drives you?
Creating positive change, empowering and believing in people and teams to create more than they dreamed possible.
Did you have a mentor who helped you in your career?
I had two incredible mentors who have had a significant impact on me as a leader and as a person. They had a vast impact on my leadership capacity and effectiveness. I would not be where I am without them supporting me to push my potential to grow and I am forever grateful.
Lifelong learning and impactful leadership are passions of Jaki Graham. Jaki is an educator who began her teaching career on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, Australia. She has a Bachelor of Fine Art and a Masters of Teaching. Prior to being the Early Childhood and Junior School Principal at the International School of Hamburg, she was a principal at United World College in Phuket, Thailand and has been been honoured to work at incredible international schools in Singapore, Zug in Switzerland and Hangzhou in China.