Interview with Principal Damian Henderson

By Bethany (U6) and Melanija (U6), committee members of KWC International Society

Bethany studies History, Biology, and Spanish at IB Higher Level in the Upper Sixth. She is currently a day pupil, but has been a full-time and part-time boarder, and she is grateful to have been voted to be a boarding prefect this year. She moved to KWC for Middle Five, from Oxford, and she next hopes to study Philosophy and Linguistics at Edinburgh University after a gap year. She is most proud of having represented the Isle of Man at the International Linguistics Olympiad for the last two years, and placing first at the national Cranmer Competition in the last academic year.

Melanija is an Upper Sixth student studying the IB and a member of the International Society. She is honoured to have been awarded the HMC Scholarship that allowed her to study at King William’s College. She is a full-time boarder and since last year, she has found a place among the welcoming community of college and has fallen in love with the idyllic island. She enjoys learning about the workings of the natural world and has an affinity for the Natural Sciences.

From his office at King William’s College, Mr Henderson opens up about what has made him the person he is today, the things that matter to him in life, and the excitement of leading King William’s College and The Buchan School. He divulges insightful advice and inspiration for students, setting a standard of hard work and determination.

Q: For people who don’t know much about you, could you please give us a brief biography of yourself?

A: I grew up in a village in Kent in the South East of England. I went to a boys’ grammar school which meant a lot of homework and a lot of team sports (rugby, cricket, athletics). Outside of school I was in the Scouts and played badminton. Being in Kent, we often went on holiday to France and that’s where my love of languages was born. I went to university to read French and Russian and then straight into teaching – the only other jobs I had were cleaning, and selling double glazing. I met my gorgeous wife Caroline two years into my career and KWC is our fifth school. There are three mini-Hendersons: two at College and one at The Buchan.

Q: What would you like a new student to know about you?

A: My former students would say that I was either very scary or very funny, and they never knew which one they were going to get. That’s about right I think. I love ‘dad jokes’, but I don’t suffer fools gladly.

Q: What brought you to the island? How have you found the island so far?

A: The spectacular setting, this amazing school, the wonderful people. So far, it’s been everything we dreamed it would be.

Q: What about your pets, do they like it here?

A: Our dog Penny (she’s a cockapoo) is in heaven – she has never had a garden before, much less a beach! The cats like it too but some of the weather has been too cheeky for them and they have yowled at night and come in all puffed up in the morning.

Q: It is a privilege for our school to have a Cambridge graduate as a principal. How has your experience there shaped you into the person you are today?

A: My mind was stretched beyond anything I thought possible. You think you’re really smart until you start having 1:1 supervisions with world experts in literature, history, art etc. – then you realise that you know precisely nothing and you’re going to spend three years at the extreme edge of your capabilities. It is humbling, inspiring and very painful, all at the same time: even saying these words is giving me butterflies!

“The amount you can learn from other cultures is enormous. Diversity is a massive boon to happiness, health and high performance.”

Q: How has your own educational experience influenced your decision to pursue a career in education?

A: I fell into teaching accidentally. I certainly didn’t think I would ever expand others’ horizons in the same way as I had my eyes opened at school then university, but I gave teaching a go, loved it, and have never looked back.

Q: In your opinion, what are the key ingredients to a good education, both pastorally and academically?

A: It’s all about relationships. Students will invariably respond well to teachers who go the extra mile for them, then teachers in turn will be inspired by the students, and go even further for them, and you have a virtuous circle. I must also mention support from home. The best schools are ones where parents, children and teachers collaborate cheerfully, as equals, to give the young person the best experience possible in their time at school.

Q: One of KWC’s distinguishing features is our international community. As a linguist, what does internationality mean to you?

A: It means everything. The amount you can learn from other cultures is enormous. Diversity is a massive boon to happiness, health and high performance. I am delighted that KWC not only has international students, and staff, and does the IBDP, but also has a genuinely global outlook as an institution. Long may that last!

Q: One of the pieces of advice you gave us in our first Assembly was to communicate well. Could you please elaborate more on the importance of communication to you?

A: It’s all about being able to work and live together as a happy and thriving community. This is just not possible if you don’t communicate well, i.e. a group of people who don’t communicate well will never collaborate well. And we need to learn how to collaborate with others in order to solve the problems facing humanity. As I said, it is REALLY hard to be a top-class communicator: you need to be an excellent listener, understand language including body language, have a big vocabulary, look to your audience, and be aware of the right tool for the message you want to give. So much time is wasted when communication is poor and sadly modern technology has thrown up all sorts of complicating factors, as well as making mass transmission much easier.

Q: What message would you give to your younger self as a student?

A: Be kinder. I was pretty harsh as a teenager. It took ages for me to learn basic kindness (shout out to Mrs Henderson here – my ‘kindness coach’!) and I still need to work on it, to be honest.

Q: What three values are most important to you?

A: I would have to stick with what I said at the start of term: Do your best, be positive, communicate effectively. There is a lot behind those three simple statements and I look forward to unpacking them this year for the community.

Q: What has been your most life-changing experience so far?

A: Having kids. There are no words to describe it.

Q: Would you like to share with us who has been the most inspiring person in your life?

A: That’s really hard. There probably isn’t one single person who is ‘most inspiring’. At work, I’ve been lucky to have had inspirational bosses. And I’ve spent a long time watching TED talks on leadership! But I would probably say someone closer to home. My dad?

Q: What are some of your favourite pastimes?

A: Dog walking, marathon running, reading, cooking curry, and listening to 80s music e.g. Whitney Houston. Not all at the same time of course.

Q: What is your favourite place you have visited so far?

A: I spent a year in Siberia, in a town called Irkutsk, not far from Lake Baikal. So, I would say there. But the Isle of Man is a close second!

Q: What book do you think everyone should read at least once in their lifetime?

A: The best novel is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Your life is not the same once you’ve read it.

Q: Lastly, do you have a dream you would like to fulfil in the future?

A: I want to have a go at the Parish Walk next year. It looks crazy but I think I’d enjoy it.

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