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We are Wellington | The end of one era, the start of another

20 Jun 2018

Natasha Cunning joined the bilingual setting as an EY2 teacher two years ago. As part of our ongoing WeareWellington project, she shares her Wellington experience.

  I can’t believe that it’s been over two years since I was here with a small team of teachers surrounded by boxes and packing plastic that we were unpacking in preparation for the big opening day. Now we’re less than 80 days away from seeing the new nursery open its doors and I think that’s perhaps going to be even more exciting than my first days here.

Starting with one big idea


It’s been an absolute privilege to see the bilingual setting grow from practically nothing into the thriving community of amazing pupils, parents and teachers that it is today. I came here to Shanghai after teaching in a bilingual school in Chengdu and several primary schools in Australia before that. Having been involved in international teaching, I was already aware of Wellington’s reputation and when I heard that the group wanted to set up a bilingual school I was very interested to see how a distinguished British school would approach the bilingual aspect of education. Like a lot of other teachers here, I ascribe much of my enthusiasm for joining Wellington to Mrs Vanessa Szucs-Hussain, our Head of Early Years. During my interview for a position here, I didn’t have to ask about her vision for the school, she told me everything I needed to know and she laid it out so incredibly clearly that I could practically see it in front of me. Even though the building wasn’t finished, even though there was just an idea and some empty rooms, I could definitely visualise what it would ultimately become: the culture, the values, the expectations, the team spirit, Vanessa described them all and I immediately thought, “Yes, that’s what I want, I want in!”

Watching the setting (and its pupils) grow

After we had unpacked the boxes, set up the classrooms and welcomed in our first group of pupils, this place very quickly took on a life of its own. I think that the most satisfying element of my work here has been seeing how the setting, and the pupils in it, have developed in the short space of just two years. Like myself and the other founding teachers, the opening year’s parents had bought into the idea of the Wellington bilingual setting because they strongly believed in what it could offer. Fortunately, this meant that we enjoyed a lot of trust and goodwill from them while we were getting established and finding our momentum. It has been wonderful to be able to repay their trust in us and demonstrate that they were right to believe in the vision that we all shared for this setting. I think that perhaps one of the best indicators of how far we’ve all come in the last two years is the development of the children’s values. Naturally, providing a fantastic 50/50 bilingual education for all our pupils has been vitally important, but the instilling of the Wellington Values is at the core of what makes our bilingual setting so distinct from other settings and it was always right at the heart of what Vanessa and the rest of the team wanted to accomplish. Within just two years, we now have pupils who clearly understand and follow through on our values. They can identify them in English and they have a genuinely solid understanding of them, including integrity, which is amazing given that it’s quite a complex concept even if you’re not in early years education and learning English as a second language. Moreover, the pupils can link the value to concrete actions. We can show the pupils examples of actions and they can easily determine, “oh, that’s kindness, that’s courage,” and so on. What has been very uplifting and heartening is how excited the children have become about the prospect of practising our values. We introduced a system of giving out appropriate stickers for showing kindness, courage, respect, integrity and responsibility, but the children understand that they only get one for going above and beyond what’s normally expected of them. They are always hugely pleased when they are told that their behaviour is worthy of a sticker, but it’s evident that they’re not doing it for the sticker itself; they grasp the inherent value and importance of behaving according to the values themselves. I feel that this is a testament to how well the Wellington way works, and also how amazing our pupils are!

Preparing for the next step

As we get ready to move into the new nursery in just a few short weeks, it’s a very exciting time for all of us here. Of course, we’re going to miss the current setting but we’ll be taking all of the great memories and progress we’ve made here and bringing them over to the new site. In short, joining and setting up the bilingual setting right from the very start has been an experience like no other. An awful lot of hard work and persistence is required during an undertaking like this, because things are in flux and everyone is figuring out exactly what needs to be done and how to go about it. However, with the right team and the right vision to guide the process, it’s possible to create something really special, which I feel we’ve definitely managed to do here. I’ve loved working in a bilingual education setup in general and at Wellington specifically. It’s very rewarding working with children learning a second language, as every day is full of important milestones. The pupils are developing so quickly and Wellington is always evolving to keep up with them, which keeps things exciting! I cannot wait to see what comes next and how we can bring the new nursery to life.