The start of the new school year at IGB International School (IGBIS) had not only seen new faces amongst the students but also in its leadership.
Mr Jason McBride has joined IGB International School (IGBIS) as the new Head of School, taking over the helm from Mrs Anne Fowles, who had served as the Founding Head of School since IGBIS’ establishment in 2014. Mr McBride does not see his current role as ‘replacing’ Ms Fowles but is here to “be the best Jason possible, and we’ll go on from there!”
Mr McBride had made some time to speak to School Advisor on Zoom and gave us insights into his vision as a long-time advocate of International Baccalaureate (IB) and as IGBIS’ new Head of School.
Mr McBride and his family -- his wife and two daughters -- had just ended their quarantine after arriving from Phuket, Thailand, where he had served as a Head of UWC Thailand for the past four years. Their experience moving during the Covid-19 pandemic has not been an easy one. Despite working from a hotel room during his orientation and now from home while his fifth and sixth graders attend IGBIS classes online, their transition to Kuala Lumpur “has been as good as it could be given the circumstances” as the “[IGBIS] team has been wonderful … a testament to the reason why I joined this school.”
After spending four years in Thailand, 14 years in the United Arab Emirates and having spent time in Canada, England and Mexico, Mr McBride’s initial start in university was surprisingly not with education. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology with plans of attending medical school but made the change due to the circumstances and constraints he faced as a student paying his way through school.
“I played sports my whole life, and coaching was always something that came very naturally. I love working with kids and had my heart set on pediatric medicine, so working with young people was always in the back of my mind. Changing from medicine to education was difficult initially, but since switching, I have never looked back.”
The teacher’s college he attended held an international job fair, and Mr McBride found himself at the right place, at the right time. He graduated and embarked on his journey to teach overseas and has not regretted the decision, finding life and a career full of adventure and novelty. “We tried returning to Canada a few years ago and loved the school we were at in Vancouver but missed the dynamism of international life.” He self-described his family as a “boomerang family” who went home and then turned right around, citing the dynamism of international schools as something he was keen to return to work in; places that are constantly changing and growing and walking the fine line between protecting what has always been done, with what is possible.
For the family, the sense of novelty-seeking, experimenting with their surroundings, and constant learning is what they seek. “For us, all those years we’ve spent in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Phuket—and now Malaysia—being ‘overseas’ is where we feel most ‘home’.”
He admires the diversity Malaysia has to offer. Even as travellers, Mr McBride and his wife felt a sense of belonging, soothed by the call to prayers they had not heard since leaving the UAE. “[Kuala Lumpur] feels like a combination of a lot of things that we’ve experienced before in a way that is also completely novel at the same time.”
“There’s a furniture store in Dubai called ‘The One’,” Mr McBride explained, “and the employees there had a saying on the back of their shirts: ‘Same, same, but different'. It’s a common saying there that you see pop up in different cultures around the world, and if I’m only being half-funny, I think that summarises my opinion on education around the world.”
To Mr McBride, taking care of the whole child—their learning, wellbeing and honouring their uniqueness—has been his priority everywhere; his “same, same”. He believes that school do their best work when the focus is on student and staff wellbeing first as a precursor to great learning and achievement. “When schools celebrate exam scores only, they are making a statement about what is important, potentially setting student wellbeing down the priority list. When you take care of students as people first and learners a close second, you can get great scores and raise healthy human beings at the same time.”
“Unfortunately, it took a pandemic for many other schools to do this, but IGBIS has done this since the very beginning,” he remarked on the similarities in the school’s goals with his views prior to being the Head of School. “The children and young people”, he said, “require support and challenge, with the need to be known and honoured for their differences.”
Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as an example, he mentioned that IGBIS’ teachers are doing a fantastic job by promoting a sense of community and belonging, even while online, and making sure the students feel cared for, loved, supported, eating well and getting enough sleep. “Many schools are focusing on learning and well-being second, and I think that the priority order is wrong. If children don’t know that you care, they’re not going to listen. And for us [at IGBIS], well-being has always been important.”
He has seen his own children’s journey at IGBIS, during a time where face-to-face communication is impossible, for his children to feel that connection right away. Mr McBride was impressed with how the community reached out for online “play-dates” after school hours, allowing them to feel a sense of belonging, getting to know one another before meeting in person for the first time in the not-so-distant future. It is something he wants to make sure the staff in the school feel too.
Inclusion is an aspect that he honours as a leader in the school. “If you look at [IGBIS’] USPs, we hang our hat on inclusion. For some schools, inclusion means supporting learners who are struggling, but it’s much bigger than that.” He realises that open-mindedness over the idiosyncrasies of all cultures needs to be present, but it is within the IB mission to see the world as a global, internationally-minded place.
The idea of international mindedness is represented in the IB Learner’s profile, and Mr McBride’s views align with that of IB and IGBIS. “IB’s mission statement has something in it to the effect of ‘multiple perspectives can also be right’, and that’s a humbling statement to keep in mind when interacting with other people.”
Although it is important to celebrate the differences and similarities of his students and staff, he also keeps cultural sensitivity and norms in mind. Mr McBride explained that he wants to bring an understanding of acceptance at IGBIS where “as long as an individual’s choices don’t run over someone else’s right to exist and express themselves the way they want to, then I think it should be allowed.”
He quipped: “Who would have thought that a t-shirt from a furniture store would summarise 20-plus years of educational experience and leadership?”
There is a preconceived notion about IB being an ‘elite’ education system, open to only those who are top in the class and perhaps not as challenging as other curricula. Mr McBride vehemently disagrees with those notions.
IB marketed as ‘elite’ in other schools has created a false narrative that the programmes are suitable for a narrow group of children when in reality, it can be modified to suit nearly every child who is willing to be challenged by a liberal arts, broad-based and future-proof style of education. “Finding every students’ best level of challenge is the ideal, and if that means that a student needs to take five standard level courses instead of the regular three higher level and three standard levels, then that is the right fit. [IGBIS] also has an advantage of being Malaysia’s only four programme IB school by offering the CP (IB’s Career-related Programme), which isn’t an “easier track, but a different path to where some students wish to go.”
He compared IB to A-Levels, noting the breadth and depth that IB offers keep students from narrowing their focus too early. “If I’m a Maths/Science student, I take Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics in the A-Levels, that would be my singular focus.” IB requires students to stay broad, which keeps their options open. “Content in other curricula can stay the same for the next 10, 20 or more years, but that’s not going to prepare a child to be a thinker, to be compassionate, to be able to create in the same way that IB does.” If you are looking at how you can help prepare your child for an unknown future, Mr McBride urges you to “Think IB, Think IGBIS”.
IGBIS’ students continue to excel academically, yet “constant improvement in our teaching and learning is a given,” he remarked. If there is an area Mr McBride wants to expand, it would be the role of service and action at IGBIS. Service is often thought of as simply giving to those less fortunate, but “this sets up an ‘us-and-them’ scenario; cementing a feeling of the ‘rich saving the poor’ and that’s not what service and action mean. The idea of contribution and mutual understanding has nothing to do with financial status, but is a mindset whereby we all help make the local, national and international world a bit better each day.”
“Many IB schools look at ‘CAS’—creativity, activity and service—in the last two years of the diploma programme and career-related programme as something to be done so you can graduate. But the idea and importance of contribution have to be embedded in every year of school. In Malaysia and Southeast Asia, it fits very well with the idea of giving back to the [whole] community, so I think it’s something that we can stretch and build out even more here.”
In his first online roll-call, Mr McBride said he joined IGBIS “to replace a position, not a person”.
“That idea where ‘we replace positions, not people’ came from a mentor, and I’ve found it to be true. If you’re going to join a school as a Head of School, you have to be aligned with the direction they’re already headed unless you were brought in to turn it around. And I wasn’t asked to come in and fix IGBIS, just to make it better.”
This reflects in his educational philosophy: to raise great human beings. Mr McBride sees this as an opportunity to not change but to further enhance what needs to be done. He wishes to open conversations on service, inclusion, allowing children to feel cared for, and even why IB is for everyone.
Mr McBride’s views align with that of IGBIS’. “I think the alignment is one of the reasons why the school chose me, and I chose it. The value alignment is about making sure we’re raising great kids rather than just aiming for great scores; because if you do all of the things to support well-being, and you hire great staff as we do, the scores largely take care of themselves.”
During this time of transition, he wants to establish trust by getting to know people and for them to know him. He is open to changes, too, if they are necessary. While IB’s design cycle is to ‘think, plan, do, reflect’, Mr McBride plans to continue to operate through a mindful approach that adds compassion to the thinking.
“Any time you come in with fresh eyes, you have a healthy ignorance [to ask] ‘Why do we do it that way?’ It’s not to critique whatever’s in place, but it helps me understand why it is [done] that way… That is the goal early on: to make us better in everything that we’re doing, then work with the team, [asking], ‘You’ve been here longer than me, what are the things we need to do?’ and help prioritise, find the resources, and create the vision to move towards those things.”
About 90% of IGBIS teachers recruited are experienced IB practitioners, and hiring good people and teachers who know the pedagogy and content is a key to teaching students first and content, skills and knowledge second.
When asked what his next plans were, his response was to settle in and get to know the community. In Mr McBride’s own words: “You don’t join a school, you join a community. Community is the organisation, so [we’re] trying to establish those relationships early on.” The health and safety of the students and teachers are also paramount to him. “We’re going to make sure they’re safe and healthy before we come back and get ready for exams.”
Learn more about IGBIS by visiting their website or call +603-6145 4688 to get in touch with the Admission Office today.
School Advisor empowers parents to make the right choices with Malaysian schools and more! We provide a comprehensive list of the best international school and private schools that offer preschool, American and British curriculums, International Baccalaureate, A-Levels and more that will satisfy your child's academic and co-curricular growth.