Meaningful Leadership - A few words with William Chen (Cohort 2016)

Voices - 26 June 2017

A year and a half ago, William Chen made the shift from research to teaching on the Teach First NZ Programme. Here he shares a bit about what leadership looks like for him and his students.

Following the completion of his Masters in 2010, William Chen spent an interesting four years in Minnesota USA working as a researcher. When returning home for the summer holidays William made the bold decision to give up his career in research to spread his passion for science and it's real world application. William is currently finishing his second year on the Teach First NZ Programme, and is passing his contagious passion for science on to his students at Southern Cross Campus High School, Mangere, South Auckland.

Last week, we caught up with William to see how the career change has gone and what he has been up to for his leadership project, an aspect of the programme which participants in their 2nd year of the programme complete.

Why did you join the Teach First NZ programme?

Before I joined Teach First NZ, I worked as an ecologist and doctoral candidate in the United States where chasing and studying moose was my main priority! Going into a science career, what I most wanted to achieve was to be able to communicate and inspire others to appreciate science. The more I worked as a researcher, the more I realised that I could reach out in a more meaningful way through science education. When I returned to Aotearoa New Zealand, I looked into opportunities and the Teach First NZ Programme was just what I was looking for - the vision and values perfectly aligned with my own.

Can you tell us what you’ve learnt about leadership through your experience as a teacher?

My time in the classroom has taught me that relationships are so important, as they are the bedrock and foundation for being able to lead well. Everyday I’m working with staff, my students, their families and the community. Without building connections there is little chance for productive communication. Relationships are essential for effective leadership. This is something that has been a key learning for me during my time in the classroom.

In your second year of the programme you have to work on a Leadership Project - can you tell us about what you’ve been up to?

A colleague and I are involved in the Tiaki competition, which is an initiative that aims to use engineering concepts for the purpose of Manukau beautification. We have a small group of eager year 9s and 10s focusing on waterway restoration, helping to clean, manage and improve our native streams, especially the ones which run through urban areas. It’s wonderful - we have a solid, dedicated team and we venture every week to our local stream or to other streams around Auckland to see what’s going on. We’re collaborating with engineers and scientists from all over the place to come up with a project that both challenges the students and develops a sense of understanding of where we stand as citizens of Manukau and of Auckland. Most importantly, it’s about how we can each make the world a slightly better place in an environmental space, and it’s been really, really powerful.

Interviewed by Emily Looker (Operations and Communications Coordinator at Teach First NZ)

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