Whittle School Leaders Talk Re-imagining Education

By That's PRD, April 17, 2019

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Whittle School & Studios are set to open one of their first campuses this coming fall in Shenzhen. Excitement is building for the opening of this artfully designed boarding school in one of China’s best innovation hubs. With another Whittle campus also opening at the same time in Washington DC, this PreK-12 educational institution looks to build on the impetus of a new age of learning in one of the key cities in the Greater Bay Area.

As the Whittle School, Shenzhen campus prepares for its grand opening later this year, we speak with the leaders working tirelessly to ensure this school gives students the education of a lifetime.

Rhiannon Wilkinson - Head of School, Shenzhen Campus

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Image via Peggy Ngai/That’s

Building on your teaching and administrative experience in England, Hong Kong and Brunei, how can you utilize those diverse experiences and make Shenzhen’s Whittle campus a culturally rich environment?
I appreciate how fortunate I am to have had the opportunity to have worked with people from all over the world. I spent 11 years in Asia in total, and it couldn’t get any more different than Hong Kong and Brunei. I think I have a real awareness, therefore, of a variety of people in the world and expectations of people whose children may well have a different background. I have a real respect for people who have a different culture and background. Moreover, I enjoy working with people whose lives have been entirely different from mine. I think we all grow and become better human beings if we have the opportunity to be together in that melting pot, and I believe that’s what I can offer, a real level of comfort and appreciation and a level of opportunity. 

How would you like to give the students and their families more of a global experience?
We definitely want to think beyond our school, which is very easy to do given the Whittle philosophy. We are a family of schools with many campuses. Although we’re rooted in our local area and may put more emphasis on particular fields that play to Shenzhen’s strong qualities, we also share much in common. So, we keep in contact with our colleagues at the Washington DC campus and our New York headquarters.

By having that kind of exposure, it allows us to think beyond what a particular school is and create a ‘global capability,’ helping students to strive in a multitude of ways, whether its trying something they’re not familiar with or doing things out of their comfort zone.

“We will be able to have students study and live on different Whittle campuses in Shenzhen and Washington DC, as well as other campuses we open in the future”

Moreover, I think you will get that breakthrough with the global rotation program that we offer, which is the idea that, from grade 10 students can spend a semester on one of our other campuses. We will be able to have students study and live on different Whittle campuses in Shenzhen and Washington DC, as well as other schools we open in the future. Each of our campuses is going to specialize and focus on a specific area, so the concept is that if a student’s talent lies in a specific area, then they can further explore that field in the best possible city. In Washington DC, it will be more focused on international cooperation and diplomacy, and Shenzhen will be more concentrated on entrepreneurialism, innovation and technology. This will be a massive opportunity for students at Whittle. Compared to other top schools around the world, Whittle School won’t need to create these experiences artificially but instead students can organically begin learning at an early age.

Yin Li - Member of Global Education Design Committee, Head of Cities Experience Program, Whittle School & Studios

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Image via Peggy Ngai/That’s

Whittle School’s city development program sounds like a unique opportunity for students to truly ‘go global.’ Would you tell us more about this program and what students and parents can expect from this style of education?
We have a ‘one school’ mentality with several campuses, providing great convenience for students to exchange ideas. Our students will feel at home even if they go from Shenzhen to Washington DC or New York. Their studies, communication with tutors and development of their unique persona will remain consistent. One of the biggest advantages of our global exchange program is that when you move from one city to another, you will understand the culture much faster. I think having that multicultural understanding plays an essential role in shaping a person to become a leader or change-maker.

It’s important for students to have these opportunities to grow together by talking and sharing. I think you already see education going through a transformation both inside and outside the classroom. I believe that there are many things we need to address in our quickly developing world, and at Whittle we’ll give students the tools to approach those problems and solve them. Students will have more possibilities as they travel to our various campuses, extending their network far beyond what students in other schools have access to. The exposure they receive from experiences like these will help them become more cultured and more understanding of people from different walks of life.

Donald Wilkinson - Interim Head of School, Shenzhen Campus

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Image via Peggy Ngai/That’s

Design is certainly a big focus at the Whittle School’s Shenzhen campus. Why has design been such a key aspect of the school and how can it impact students’ learning?
I think design in any educational institution is important. First, it’s important to grow up with an aesthetic awareness and to appreciate the beauty and the practicality of design. I think we live in a world where these things are becoming increasingly important and will become even more so in the future. In terms of the actual building, I think the attention that the architects have given to light is very important. If you’re working in an illuminated atmosphere and receive natural light throughout the day, I think there is clear evidence that this environment enhances learning. I think the classrooms are spacious, and the furniture is ergonomically designed. The fact that there are open spaces outside the classrooms and in other parts of the building will enable students to have more opportunities to exchange and converse. Whittle is trying to take an ‘anywhere, anytime’ approach to learning, and we think anything and everything that goes on in a school can promote learning. 

Another thing Whittle will do is try to link what goes on in our schools to the UN Sustainable Goals program. Having a concern for the environment is very important to us and we want it to be important for our students. Growing up with this environmental awareness will be significant for them, the country and the world.

What do you believe Whittle School offers that makes it enticing for both parents and students?
One of the things that make us different is the attempt to give learning a real-world connection. What we’ll offer is project-based learning, which doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is reduced to one big project, but instead we want to try to introduce some overarching themes over a period of learning. Also, following a central quest to learn and stay focused will be another key focus. For example, one theme could be about water, where students will work to perceive rather than learn multiple aspects of the topic, from a scientific perspective to a geographical, and even an economic perspective.


For more information on Whittle School & Studios, you can visit their website or scan the QR code below.

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This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

[Cover image by Ryan Gandolfo/That’s]

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