Passion for Learning - Dr Oli Tooher-Hancock talks with You & I

Dr Oli Tooher Hancock

School years are among the most important times of one’s life, and the right school can nurture a child and give them the best foundation for success in adulthood. The International School of Hyderabad (ISH) is among the oldest schools in the city, and this week we caught up with the Principal of the school, Dr Oli Tooher-Hancock, to find out more about her background, her thoughts on education and more.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your role as Principal of the International School of Hyderabad?
I am a British/Irish national who has been in the field of international education for 25 years. I have worked in international schools in Spain, China, Japan, Sri Lanka, Peru, and now India. I am married to Mike, who also works at the school. Together we have two sons – Patrick, an ISH alumnus currently studying in Canada, and George, who is a senior at ISH.

As head of school, I am passionate and committed – first and foremost – to improving the learning of all students, using a range of systems. Since the biggest determinant of learning success is teaching quality, I try to promote the best pedagogical practices. As such, I develop teaching and learning skills through a curriculum that is inquiry-based, has interdisciplinary synergy, is collaborative, relevant, inclusive, empowering, and reflective. It’s intended to prepare students for a rapidly changing world.

How long have you been with the school and what has the experience been like for you?
This is my fourth year at ISH and every year we face new opportunities. It has been, and continues to be an exciting journey as we continue to develop. We are about to embark on a strategic planning journey – that is the most exciting of all.

Now that you have been in Hyderabad for some time, what are your thoughts on the city?
This is my fourth year in Hyderabad and the city grows on me more and more. Nobody likes the traffic, but once you get beyond that, I find street life fascinating. And the city is steeped in history, which is what I used to teach, so I love anything historical. My family and I also love the great choice of Sunday brunches around the city!

ISH is one of the oldest international schools in Hyderabad. How does ISH distinguish itself from some of the other, newer schools that have sprung up?
I think in my time at ISH, of the many initiatives and changes that the school has undergone, perhaps the most important was the development of a new mission statement and guiding principles (rather than a set of rules). At ISH, students ‘lead their own learning’. This focus has meant that our students take risks in a secure and trusting learning environment and develop their leadership skills, learning most importantly from the mistakes they make along the way. Indeed, we view mistakes as learning opportunities.

What advice would you give to parents about choosing the right school?
I think it is really important that schools are the right ‘fit’ for learners. Our school is very mission-driven; we are clear that we are learning-focused, diverse, nurturing, collaborative, and aspirational. We believe all subjects are of equal importance. We believe learning doesn’t happen only in the classroom. If you want to attend this truly international school that has over 28 different nationalities, you have to have a mindset and the knowledge of what it is to be a 21st century learner.

What are your other interests?
I love to keep fit. I live on the ICRISAT campus, so this lends itself to walks, runs and bike rides. I enjoy singing and playing the guitar, and I like to celebrate whenever possible. Next up for me on the annual calendar is St. Patrick’s Day, which is an Irish celebration. The house will be decked out in green and we will play Irish music and have a sing-a-long with friends. I also love to spend as much time as possible with family.            – as told to Suneela