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7 Questions with Katie Tomlinson
helps you in your leadership.
7 Questions with Katie Tomlinson
Name: katie tomlinson
Current title: Head of International Primary
Current organisation: Sri KDU International School, Kota Damansara
Katie Tomlinson is currently the Head of Primary at Sri KDU International School, Malaysia. She has been an educator for 25 years and a Headteacher for 15 of these.
Whilst Katie is, and always will be, a Primary practitioner at heart, her role within school life has diversified into leadership development coaching, Safeguarding and curriculum development.
Whilst working in the UK, Katie was a network Leader for her Catholic School Cluster and was a Local Leader in Education for the National College for School Leadership UK; hosting placement for aspiring Headteachers and mentoring newly appointed Heads.
As the parent of two teenagers, Katie is passionate about building and growing potential within children and young people whilst also confusing their wellbeing and positive mental health.
Over her career, Katie developed projects for Growth Mindset and Citizenship Thinking; enabling children to be resilient, optimistic and confident whilst forming good relationships, take personal responsibility and making a positive global contribution. She believes every school should be ‘one with a heart’.
Katie has been the Chair of the Primary Heads AIMS (Association of International Malaysian Schools) Network since 2018. A voluntary organisation which facilitates student and staff events, training and building collaboration.
She is also one of the founding Network Leaders for WomenEd Malaysia. WomenEd is a global grassroots movement that connects aspiring and existing women leaders in education and gives women leaders a voice in education.
Katie operates on Twitter and Instagram as @TheLshipCoach.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
The need for constant affirmation of values and expectations can sometimes seem exhausting but it is so important to keep reinforcing these to all members of the school community. It gets more difficult and yet more important the larger the organisation and the wider the sphere of influence but so important to prevent dilution or decline of values, ethos, conduct and standards .
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I was lucky - I knew at the age of 5 I wanted to be a teacher. Nothing else ever entered my mind for consideration. I was also fortunate to work in great schools with fabulous mentors and leaders who recognised my potential. I was promoted internally into my first Headship position after being the Deputy Headteacher for 6 years. Rather than thinking about this as luck, or being in the right place at the right time, I consider this as a 6 year interview! It was at this point that I realised that you achieve the next position and promotion because of what you have achieved in your current post and NOT because of what you say you are going to do or achieve in the next. My current Headship is my fourth but my first Internationally. This is a Primary Headship but in a through school from Primary to IB and because of this my leadership has been able to expand to working with a wider group of colleagues and expanded in scope.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I am an early riser. I am sure this will be frowned upon but upon waking, I remain in bed and spend 30 minutes looking at emails and messages which have come in from the night before. I find that doing this on first waking gives me the peace of mind to spend the next hour of my day getting ready and travelling to work stress free. Getting ready for me means hair, make up, making lunches for my children and watching the BBC news on catch up from the UK.
I leave for work at 7am and listen to a podcast on my short drive in. I always have a podcast on the go and listen to this whenever travelling. My children are now old enough to travel to school on their own so I wake them on leaving and give them an extra hour in bed.
My work day overall can be varied but my first hour is almost always coffee, emails and a catch up with my SLT followed by a walk around my classrooms and staff rooms. After this - who knows! This is the great thing about my job - when you work in a school there will always be something different and interesting taking place.
I stay quite late at work and don't leave until I have cleared my inbox, written out my schedule for the next day (including my high priority tasks) and prepared for any meetings the next day fully.
When I get home it can be quite late but I try to exercise before I do anything else. 30 minutes of weight training which I try to do with my personal trainer or a friend as motivation. This has made a huge difference to my personal wellbeing and mental health.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.
When it comes to relationships, we are greatly influenced — whether we like it or not — by those closest to us. It affects our way of thinking, our self-esteem, and our decisions. Of course, everyone is their own person, but research has shown that we're more affected by our environment than we think.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I found Legacy (Jim Collins) quite fascinating. It details 15 lessons in leadership taken from the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby team.
I have read and re-read it many times. It's an easy, quick read and there is so much for leaders to think about for building high performance teams. For me that is what leadership is all about.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
Look for the trail blazers. Over the past 12 months, it has never been more challenging for teachers and leaders in schools. Some staff have embraced and risen to the challenges; thinking forward and growing stronger. These staff are leaders - they saw challenge as opportunity. These staff may not be the most experienced but they are certainly the ones who will 'early adopt' any initiatives and could be the future of the organisation.
Aside from this, we also run an Associate Leadership Programme within the organisation which offers training, support, coaching and mentoring to staff who have leadership potential. This is a structured way of developing those who want leadership roles in the future.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
Most of my stories are about the impact we have had on children's lives. It would be difficult for me to pick just one. Each and every time I get an email from a parent or other colleague which thanks the staff for their work , or expresses their gratefulness for the difference a member of staff has made to their child's character I feel proud and it makes me determined to carry on working hard to make a difference.
On a personal note, as a young teacher I read a book called 'The Magic Weaving Business' which is about the impact of positive teacher - student relationships. I went to a conference led by the author John Jones and he urged us to contact the teacher who influenced us positively at school and motivated us to do better - our Magic Weaver. I wrote a letter and after some internet searching, managed to get it to a wonderful teacher I had had as a teenager. She replied and was really touched that I had got in touch telling her about my role now.
3 years later I got a letter from someone who said I was their Magic Weaver. I was overcome with this emotionally -to know you have played even just a small part in helping shape someone's life and character is such a privilege and joy. I hope I can 'weave magic' in many lives to come.