While the entire school community is sad to see our Director go, we’re happy and grateful for all that she leaves behind.
One thing is for sure – AISG will never be the same. The legacy Dr. Bernadette Carmody leaves in her stead will live on, from introducing the PLC framework to refreshing the master plan and of course bringing our brand new theater to life.
A key part of her term has been about building relationships in order to get projects off the ground, and she says AISG’s connections with local authorities means the school now has a very different profile – which has been vital in both the theater development and master planning process. Dr. Carmody jokes that in her time here, she has seen more architects and engineers than educators (luckily she had plenty of practice in her 10 years at Shanghai American School, during which the campus gained a new library, swimming pool and auditorium)! So much so that her husband Arnt Wollum tracked down a course on construction management and sent her off to upskill.
How did this Australian (her) and Norwegian (him) come to cross paths? The couple first met in Sri Lanka and since then have traveled and taught together in a “tumble of places and adventures”. They’ve lived in Norway, Liberia, Venezuela, Shanghai and Bahrain – including a stint in Arnt’s hometown of Stavanger, where Dr. Carmody had her first taste of teaching elementary school, until, she says, “we both got tired of scratching ice off our windscreens and shovelling snow”.
“Then we played ‘whoever gets the first job, the other will follow’ – it’s a fun game!” she recounts. Ultimately, a phone call offering a role in rural Venezuela came one morning while she was still asleep. Arnt, who answered the call, accepted on the spot on her behalf. “When she wakes up, I guarantee you she will say yes,” he recalls saying.
There’s a Norwegian saying, "Everything does not go as we guess," that aptly sums up their journey. Says Dr. Carmody: “We’ve never thought of our life as being unusual or exotic. It’s just life.”
It can be a lonely lifestyle at times, however, it’s clear they make a rock-solid team, with their different personalities perfectly complementing each other. She credits Arnt as being a great support in hundreds of ways. Their shared companionship is central to daily life; he helps her practice speeches, bounces around ideas, and ensures she leaves home on time with a packed lunch and umbrella!
Her supportive and nurturing approach brings out the best in people and has helped strengthen the strong sense of community at AISG. It’s not hard to see she genuinely values and cares for those around her. “It’s important for Bern that everyone feels comfortable sitting around her,” says Arnt. “It’s not just at school, it’s not a hat to take on and off. It’s the way it is, 24 hours.”
Dr. Carmody says she has a daily responsibility to model this the best that she can. “In the Carmody family, we always say that nice people are nice all of the time, not just when they feel like it!”
Happiness is central to her philosophy, as research shows a positive and warm school environment is critical to promoting better learning. Building on her doctoral dissertation on organizational culture, she has created a caring, inclusive environment for teaching wherever she goes. Fostering a thriving culture at the faculty level then flows down to the student level. “Learning only happens when students feel safe, valued and cared for,” she explains. “If everyone in the organization feels valued, encouraged and supported, they can be the best they can be. Energy can be generated, and the organization can move forward and adapt quickly, respond to demands and challenges and keep reinventing itself.”
While there was never dissatisfaction with the previous mission and vision as it was, she says the new plan will benefit the school for at least 10 years with greater relevance and connection to our foundational values.
“It was quite the undertaking! The joy was the different pieces of the community, the different ways they contributed to the process.”
The process itself was highly robust and research-based, beginning with a methodical gathering of information leading to a search for patterns and priorities to shape a new vision. Often, groups gathered at her house to work on the project. “Many evening meetings were held at our place under the lure of sausages on the BBQ,” she laughs.
Many AISG faculty and staff have had the pleasure of enjoying Arnt’s cooking at their home – an apartment in the Gold Arch compound on Ersha Island facing Canton Tower. While they’re excited to head to the Netherlands for a new challenge, they will miss the magical views, the security guards who greet them each morning, their ayi Jane (aka guardian angel & fairy godmother) and driver Mr. Lin! Not to mention the amazing dim sum and foot massages that abound in Guangzhou, a place they’ve called home for five years now.
Her new role will be as Director and Chief Executive Officer at the International School of Amsterdam, the first IB continuum school with a strong 53-year history. It’s an area exploding with expat families, she says, and will be a very different learning environment, not to mention lifestyle. They’ll be moving to a large, beautiful house with a lake across the road and a little canal running down the back, just five miles down the road from the school. Clipping hedges, mowing lawns and buying a car for the first time in 30 years … big changes are in store!
“Each different living and working context provides enormous opportunity for growth and development,” Dr. Carmody says. Unsurprisingly, she has mixed feelings about leaving AISG, praising the meaningful projects and amazing people that marked her time here.
“It’s the lure of new learning rather than a desire to cut ties here that was the motivator for us to move,” she says.
“Each school develops over time, with its own set of circumstances, organically meeting the needs of the community around it, as AISG has done.
“I could be very happy continuing the wonderful projects here … they feel very much mine still!”