Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Education helps transform potential into strength, giving us the confidence to stand for a better world for all. And the best way to change the world is by educating the youth.
At The International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL), our mission and vision statements are the bedrock to everything we do, including our learning programs. We believe our holistic education promotes student agency that produces confident students who explore and pursue their interests with passion, are self-directed, and successfully manage the complexities of our evolving world. Hence, the same level of agency is also expected from our educators to make the right decisions that will help our students grow.
According to ISKL’s Head of School, Mr. Rami Madani, “One of our most important roles at ISKL is to guide, mentor, and support students to become effective leaders. Building their leadership capacity today is one of the greatest attributes we can provide them with, in preparation for the future.” As educators, there is a need to look forward, plan, and listen to the community. It is the understanding that there is no room to be complacent, as the education delivered today is a race against the future for students. The ability to support our students and nurture their holistic development at ISKL makes for a beautiful and empowering profession.
The ‘Find Yourself At ISKL’ series is an opportunity to listen to our students, faculty, and community members as they share their journey of self-discovery, how they explored or discovered their passions and competencies while at ISKL.
Today we invite you to hear from inspirational individuals who encapsulate what being a caring and committed leader means. They are passionate advocates for ensuring all students have access to learning that meets their needs and aspirations. From our Head of School, Rami Madani, to our Educational Leadership Team, Azra Pathan, Doug Woodward, Julie Olson, Jeff Farrington, Jeff Harwood, and Peter Casey, they shared inspiring leadership stories with us!
Rami Madani, Head of School
Rami Madani is the Head of School and has been with ISKL since 2009. He is an educational leader with over 25 years of experience in international schools in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Rami’s expertise in learning, leadership, and governance is recognized across the Asia Pacific, where he has provided strategic consultancy services for international schools and educational conferences. He was previously Director of Learning at ISKL, a position held for six years. Previous roles as Head of Secondary School at Ecole Mondiale, Mumbai, India, and positions such as Curriculum Coordinator, Dean, and IB teacher, ensure Rami has a comprehensive understanding of the needs of 21st-century learners. Rami holds a BSc, Mathematical Sciences (Hons), and an MA (Education).
“As a young person, my dream was to become a pianist, which I did, but then I moved into education. Music taught me precision, quality, discipline, high standards, and high expectations, which are virtues I’m using in my job.
‘‘When I joined ISKL as a mathematics teacher, I remember one day, when I was in the theatre and on stage, I saw many of my math students singing. I was so impressed looking at them – at their passion, energy, and how they cared for each other. That was an ‘‘aha’’ moment for me that students were more than collecting subjects they study. They are people who have passion and interest in making the world a better place.
‘‘As leaders, if we were to live a legacy, that legacy should be about people, to help them be better citizens to improve the world for themselves, others, and the environment. Then I realized we at ISKL do care about everything, and we have the turtles! This is a photograph I took when I joined the school 12 years ago. These turtles are still with us here, and we brought them to our new campus! This is who we are – we are a community of people who care about everything and everyone.”
Julie Olson, Elementary School Principal
Julie Olson is the Elementary School Principal and has been with ISKL since 2016. She has served as ES Principal and MS Principal in Ghana and the US. Previous to her nineteen years as a Principal, Julie was a school counselor and taught second and third grade. She holds a Masters of School Administration and a Masters in School Counseling, and a Bachelor of Arts.
‘‘I find it enormously inspiring every day to see students fully participating in everything that we offer here at ISKL. All of the experiences, co-curricular, athletic, and education-wise – to see these students every single day getting the full benefits of everything ISKL has to offer, I find to be inspiring for myself.
‘‘I believe that children, humans, all of us need to belong, and inclusion essentially belongs because every kid belongs, and every kid deserves a chance to learn at a place like ISKL.”
Azra Pathan, Elementary School Assistant Principal
Azra Pathan is the Elementary School Assistant Principal and has been with ISKL since 2009, where she has served many roles, including ES teacher, ES Teaching & Learning Coordinator. She previously worked as an administrator in the US and India. She has presented at various conferences on curriculum and professional development, technology integration across disciplines, and leadership. As a passionate educator, she works with a learner-centered approach to teaching and learning. Her leadership focuses on student well-being, professional learning, and enhancing systems & processes in schools. She loves being part of the ISKL community for its commitment to holistic student growth, for the opportunities it provides, and the high calibre of colleagues she gets to work with each day. Azra holds an MA (Educational Administration & Supervision) and a BA (Liberal Studies & Spanish).
“I found myself at ISKL when participating in a collaborative meeting with one of the grade-level teams – one of the 12 teams that I work with in my role as a teaching and learning coordinator. They were planning an outer space unit, and the ideas were being thrown around the table, and that’s when I felt a surge of energy. Those usual respectful voices were all of a sudden raised in excitement! “This is how we can use Lego mind-storms and how I can code this path for this rover!” The conversation continued as more voices started to pipe in. These ideas were integrated, and a new and improved version of the unit came about from this.
‘‘I saw quickly what an incredible and privileged journey I was on as a leader, from being in a Grade 2 classroom as a second-grade teacher, collaborating with fantastic colleagues, and co-teaching with them. There isn’t a meeting that goes by where I’m not humbled by the people I work with.
‘‘I recognize other unique perspectives they bring and their backgrounds, which allows us to do the things that we do here at the Elementary School. These individuals have transformed the community into a more inclusive one that cultivates this sense of belonging. That’s the essence of shared leadership, and I discovered it here at ISKL.”
Peter Casey, Middle School Principal
Peter Casey is the Middle School Principal and has been with ISKL since 2016. With over 30 years of experience as an international educator, Peter has worked in six different countries and has taught every grade from Pre-K to grade 12. Along with his vast classroom experience and diverse teaching background, Peter has also been an assistant principal and athletic director. Peter has created an environment in the Middle School that allows students to acquire the necessary skills and dispositions to succeed in school and the opportunity to explore areas of personal interest. Peter’s work at ISKL has led to a curriculum and instruction that is engaging, personal, and meaningful for our students. Peter has hosted workshops and professional development at ISKL and around the region to develop “Student Agency” and leadership. He genuinely believes that creating a positive school culture of care and inclusivity for students, parents, and faculty will lead to a harmonious and productive learning community. Peter holds an MA (Educational Studies Program) and a BA (Physical and Health Education).
“Eleven years ago, when I was thinking about coming to ISKL, I had three school-aged children in Grade 9, 6, and 5. It was a significant decision for our family, and I wanted a great place to work. My wife, Tina, and I are career educators, and we wanted to work in a great school. It was probably more important for my children to have a fantastic place to go to school at this point in my life.
‘‘I could tell from the moment I walked on the campus that I realized that ISKL was that kind of place. It was a place where students felt connected and where teachers cared for kids and had great relationships. I could see many opportunities that my children could have – and true enough, they had all those opportunities. They traveled, played sports, they were in music, speech, debate, drama, you name it, my kids did it all while they were here.
‘‘My kids have all since graduated and returned to Canada, and I can honestly say that today they’ve all found their identity and passion from all the opportunities they had here. As a school leader and parent, I want parents to have the chance to see that their kids can develop here, and they can have the same options.
‘‘As a school leader, I want to ensure that we have excellent teachers, facilities, and programs to help every child be the person they can be, to reach their potential, and be all they are. I’m incredibly proud to be a leader here, and my kids inspire me and what they’ve accomplished by the kids I teach and the teachers I work with. I feel fortunate, very fortunate to be a part of this community.”
Doug Woodward, Middle School Assistant Principal
Doug Woodward is the Middle School Assistant Principal and has been with ISKL since 2007. Besides being passionate about teaching kids and helping schools get even better, Doug is also an Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), Google Certified, and a former technology facilitator. He has lived and taught in Kenya, Peru, Jordan, the US, and now Malaysia. Doug holds a Masters in Educational Leadership and School Administration from Indiana University.
“This is my fourteenth year at ISKL, and this place has become home for me professionally and for our family. I have three kids, one of them has graduated, and two are now in High School. I had heard a lot about ISKL and what a great community it was.
‘‘If there was probably one person that most captures that, it’s not surprising that person would be Middle School Dance faculty, Karen Palko. She’s the magic of MS and bringing us all together. At the old Ampang campus, she put together this huge dance movie where the camera followed people throughout the MS campus. I was in a Panther suit, trying to catch up and go from place to place. Every MS student was in the video, whether with their homegroup sliding down banisters, doing cartwheels, and fun flips – it was a real tribute to this home that we had. Thanks to Karen, we were able to say goodbye and say hello, as we moved into a new campus later that year in 2018.
‘‘Another fun memory at ISKL is a tradition that builds on the community is – the Clap Out! This was a picture taken on the last Clap Out at the old Ampang campus. Just remembering the students, the hugs, tears, and connections they made are pretty unique at ISKL. I think that’s something that made me find myself, which I want to guard and keep for the rest of my life.”
Jeff Farrington, High School Principal
Jeff Farrington is the High School Principal and has been with ISKL since 2014. He has been an administrator for more than 20 years. Jeff began his international education career in 1994 and is actively involved in leading instruction, assessment, and teacher supervision since 2000 (MS Principal, HS Principal, K-12 Director of Learning). He was a recipient of the US-based National Association for Secondary School Principals (NASSP) 2021 Principal of the Year. Jeff holds a Master’s degree in International Education.
“My first experience at ISKL was before I was employed here – about six years ago. I was in ISKL for an interview for the High School principalship vacancy. My wife, Tina, and I had visited from Canada, and I remember at the time there was a launching assembly for the Global Action Programme (GAP).
‘‘We had our string performers, the band, choir performers – it was very high quality and an exceptional assembly. But that wasn’t what impressed me the most. It was a group of three girls who got up on stage to perform for their peers. During their performance, maybe they didn’t hit every note perfectly, perhaps they were a little off pitch, but at the end of their performance, the 600 peers in the audience stood up and gave them a standing ovation. The audience applauded and celebrated them for taking that risk on stage.
‘‘So that time, I decided that this is the type of school I would like to put my two boys in, and I wanted to be part of this community. Since becoming the HS principal, I see it every day – the culture of empathy and care.
‘‘Students take risks – being in a safe environment to take those risks, and when things don’t go perfectly, other students support them, pick them up, help them out, celebrate them, and cheer them on. In this environment and through the diversity we have, we don’t just appreciate diversity. We seek it out!”
Jeff Harwood, High School Assistant Principal
Jeff is the High School Assistant Principal and has been with ISKL since 2016. He has been working in administration for nine years and has spent over a decade in the classroom as a High School and Middle School teacher. Jeff has also worked as a Secondary and College Counselor. He believes that learning is a life-long endeavor and enjoys being a part of every aspect of the educational system. Jeff holds multiple undergraduate degrees and a Masters degree in Education.
“I found myself at ISKL when I reflected on the different things that students get to be involved in here. We know that ISKL has high academic rigor, but we’re so much more than that as a school. And the fact that our students have the opportunity to connect and take pride in our school beyond the classroom in that way is something special. And it makes me very proud to work at a place like ISKL, where students have so many different opportunities.
“And I think another thing that makes ISKL special is that we don’t fall into the cliché trope of you have to be one thing. We have four-year varsity athletes performing on stage, singing in front of an audience. We have highly successful IB students who have been able to experience great results in the classroom, but they also connect and step outside of their comfort zone and become performers and take on this new skill and foster this new skill.
“It is important to reflect on our most memorable moments. As the assistant principal, my favorite moment is graduation. Every year, I get to see these young people walk across the graduation stage, and it fills me with great pride to know how far they’ve traveled and the things they’ve overcome. It is a celebratory moment for them, of course, but it is for me as well. And I love every one of them.“
ISKL believes that if a person’s actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, they are a leader. Going along Azra, Doug, Julie, Jeff, Jeff, Peter, and Rami’s journey, it is apparent that our award-winning educators model the behavior, skills, and attitudes they want to inculcate in students and are doing so with passion and conviction. To quote Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, “Books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”
Whether it is an ‘‘aha’’ moment, at a collaborative meeting, or reminiscing a memorable tradition – these stories from our community showed that there are many opportunities to grow and be a leader at ISKL. Read more about our first FYAISKL story, where we highlight notable members of the ISKL Community. Next on the Find Yourself at ISKL series is on High School Students, so stay tuned!