Isabel Sankaran-Wee, Deputy Head of School for Advancement and Strategy, Stratford Hall

In Vancouver, Canada, within the walls of Stratford Hall, an IB World School, a remarkable journey unfolds. Isabel Sankaran-Wee, the Deputy Head of School for Advancement and Strategy, is an inspiring leader who has seamlessly transitioned from the bustling world of media to the dynamic realm of education.

Isabel’s role at Stratford Hall is a multifaceted one. She oversees development, admission, and marketing, playing a pivotal part in the school’s long-term community growth. But before delving into her current endeavours, let’s rewind to her early days, where her affinity for communication and service first blossomed.

Raised in multicultural Singapore, Isabel’s educational journey began in an all-girls convent school. It was here that she learned the value of service culture, a core principle that has guided her throughout her career. Her school’s commitment to education as a holistic experience left a lasting impression, emphasizing the importance of nurturing the whole being.

Isabel’s career took off in the media industry, starting as a Production Assistant at MTV’s newly established Asian Headquarters in Singapore. Her journey into the media world was marked by an audacious letter to MTV in New York that began with the iconic words, “I want my MTV.” Within a month, she received a life-changing phone call, and the rest, as they say, is history. “That letter to MTV was a bold move,” Isabel recounts. “I was determined to seize opportunities, and it paid off. Sometimes, a single step can change your trajectory.”

In media, Isabel embraced the power of storytelling, recognizing the common ground with education in the art of conveying information and engaging hearts and minds. She says, “In media, we inform and entertain. In education, we inform and enlighten. The common thread is the power of knowledge.”

Growing up in a culturally diverse Singapore and her extensive travels across Asia exposed her to the richness of different cultures. Listening to the stories of different cultures deepened her ability to connect with people and instilled in her a profound sensitivity to their needs. This empathetic perspective, she believes, forms the bedrock of effective education and service to others.

“Understanding different cultures and truly connecting with people is at the core of education. It’s about building bridges of understanding,” shares Isabel. At its core, Isabel’s journey, whether in the media or education sector, has always been about building relationships, understanding diverse cultures, and ensuring that the values of service and education are interwoven into the fabric of her work.

Nurturing Lifelong Connections

At Stratford Hall, Isabel oversees the development and execution of long-term community growth initiatives, focusing on crucial areas such as fundraising, public relations, marketing, communications, and admissions. She provides strategic oversight for Development, Admissions, and Marketing, a trifecta that embodies the continuous relationship families have with Stratford Hall.

In Isabel’s own words, “These three branches embody a family’s single, ongoing relationship with Stratford Hall.” This relationship begins with a simple admission inquiry and unfolds into a lifelong odyssey of discovery. Prospective families become current families, donors become advocates, and young students evolve into influential alumni. Throughout this intricate tapestry, one common thread unites it all – the pursuit of growth, not only for the present but also for the future.

Within her role, Isabel collaborates with a diverse spectrum of stakeholders, including donors, alumni, parents, staff, and partners. Here, she offers insights into how she forges and sustains powerful connections with these individuals, emphasizing the key components of her approach. Isabel explains, “Firstly, be present. It’s about being aware, being versed, being genuine. Understand that donors are seeking meaning and impact in their giving.”

In the realm of meaningful relationships, being genuinely engaged is paramount. Isabel acknowledges the importance of understanding that donors are not just providing financial support but are seeking a deeper purpose and impact in their contributions. Isabel elaborates, “Secondly, exercise empathy. Communication is important. Peter Drucker wrote, ‘The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.’ This is where empathetic listening becomes key. It’s as important to leave a meeting with clarity as it is with understanding.”

Isabel’s philosophy rests on empathy and profound listening. In her view, effective communication goes beyond words; it encompasses the unspoken. By truly understanding the needs and aspirations of stakeholders, she ensures that each interaction fosters clarity and comprehension, essential elements in the world of education. Isabel adds, “Education is all about relationships. Chuck your ego at the door. It’s not about me or you. It’s about the kids. It is for me to impress on my donors that what they are contributing is for the future.”

Shaping Success through Philanthropy and Leadership

With over a decade of experience in the independent school sector, Isabel’s career is marked by remarkable achievements and transformative projects. Her story began with her immigration to Canada in 2007. Like many immigrants, she faced the challenge of starting from scratch, leaving her previous career highs behind. St. George’s School, an independent boys’ school, provided her with an opportunity that she cherishes to this day. It was at St. George’s that she learned the significance of an engaged community in driving the growth and success of an independent school.

Isabel recalls, “I will be eternally grateful to them, and I learned so much from them on how an engaged community is vital to the growth and success of an independent school.” This experience laid the foundation for her approach to community relations, which she carried forward to her next school. At her next school, Isabel put her knowledge into practice, dedicating herself to strengthening community relations as the school worked towards a successful campaign. The bonds she formed with the school made it incredibly difficult to leave. However, the journey continued, and Stratford Hall provided Isabel with the unique opportunity to build from the ground up.

Isabel reflects on her role at Stratford Hall with gratitude, saying, “Here, I was able to build my team. I do not take it for granted that I was blessed and privileged to have been entrusted with the responsibility to put a process in place and build a team that would shape Stratford Hall in its next stage of growth.” Isabel’s team, affectionately named the “MAD – Marketing Admissions, Development” team, plays a pivotal role in the school’s success. They work tirelessly to not only enrol and retain students but also to instil a culture of philanthropy. Their collective responsibility is to ensure that the school consistently delivers on its promise of a student-centred and mission-appropriate education.

“I am extremely proud of what I have accomplished at Stratford Hall thus far,” says Isabel, highlighting her achievements. Yet, she remains profoundly grateful for the dedication of her original team members who have been on this journey with her. “I do owe it to them that I am here,” she acknowledges. Isabel’s leadership extends beyond her team. Other members of her team have gone on to take on leadership roles in other schools, a testament to her mentoring and their growth.

In recognition of her commitment to excellence, Isabel holds the CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive) certification and the International Advancement Professional Certification – Leader Level (IAP-L). Her certifications, mentoring, and presentations have allowed her to give back to other independent schools and colleagues at Stratford Hall. “Getting my CFRE certification was truly an honour,” Isabel notes. “It was a commitment that I made to continue to serve my community and my donors while upholding the highest standards of practice.” Earning her IAP-L from Independent School Management (ISM) was another career highlight, an affirmation that she had something valuable to offer and share with the world.

Stratford Hall: Nurturing Future Leaders through the IB Programme

Stratford Hall, a beacon of educational excellence, was born in the late 1990s through the vision of two local parents, Elaine Lee and Cindy Leung. Their aspiration was simple yet profound: to create a university preparatory option for their own children. In 2000, the school opened its doors with a modest enrolment of only 40 students, ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Since those early days, Stratford Hall has witnessed remarkable growth, adding approximately 40 new students each year. Today, its vibrant community comprises 545 students from Kindergarten to Grade 12, shaping the minds of future leaders.

At the heart of Stratford Hall’s educational philosophy is the globally recognized International Baccalaureate (IB) program. This acclaimed educational framework is designed to mould well-rounded, knowledgeable, and principled individuals. “The IB programme offers a rigorous and comprehensive curriculum that spans a wide spectrum of subjects, encompassing languages, humanities, sciences, mathematics, and the arts. This diversity of subjects is the cornerstone of developing a well-rounded knowledge base, preparing students for a multifaceted world,” shares Isabel.

The IB programme is more than just a curriculum; it’s a mindset that emphasizes international-mindedness and an understanding of different cultures and perspectives. Students are not only encouraged to learn facts and figures but also to think critically about global issues. They are nurtured to become responsible global citizens, embracing their roles in an interconnected world.

The rigour of the IB programme at Stratford Hall serves as a catalyst for excellence. It inspires students to reach for the highest standards, cultivating a strong work ethic and a deep commitment to their studies. It’s a journey that shapes education by providing a holistic, international, and intellectually challenging learning experience.

Beyond the classroom, the IB programme equips students with invaluable skills, such as critical thinking and research abilities, while instilling a global perspective. It fosters personal growth and academic achievement, setting the stage for a generation of young individuals who are not just learners but also leaders, ready to make a positive impact on the world.

Shaping Global Citizens with a Holistic Approach to Education

Stratford Hall’s dedication to nurturing global citizens is an integral part of its multifaceted educational approach. Placing an emphasis on pluralism and community, the school encourages students to adopt an international perspective and celebrate diverse cultures. This comprehensive journey encompasses several key elements.

“We recognize language as a bridge to understanding, and it plays a crucial role at Stratford Hall. Our rigorous language programme equips students with proficiency in multiple languages, promoting cross-cultural understanding and appreciation. It allows students to connect with people from diverse backgrounds and deepen their cultural insights,” elaborates Isabel.

Critical thinking is a cornerstone of the educational experience at Stratford Hall. Students are not only taught facts but also encouraged to think critically about pressing global issues. They stay informed about world affairs and assume responsibility for environmental stewardship, fostering informed and socially responsible global citizens.

Stratford Hall also instils a strong sense of responsibility towards local and global communities. Through community engagement and service initiatives, students learn the importance of actively contributing to the well-being of others. This hands-on experience fosters empathy and a commitment to making a positive impact on the world.

International-mindedness is a central tenet of Stratford Hall’s educational philosophy. Students are encouraged to think beyond borders and are empowered with leadership skills to advocate for positive outcomes in the global arena. This perspective equips them to become informed, empathetic, and active global citizens.

Beyond the academic aspect, Stratford Hall places a strong emphasis on student character and wellness, aiming to go above and beyond. The belief is that through active global citizenship education, students are supported in knowing and caring for themselves and others with empathy and compassion.

From this foundation, students embark on a journey of learning, growth, and making a positive impact in the lives of others. Stratford Hall forges strong connections with community partners, including an elder’s home, a local sibling school serving a vulnerable population, the Immigrant Services Society of BC, MOSAIC (providing settlement and employment services for newcomers), and the New Fountain Shelter (a Downtown Eastside low barrier homeless shelter), among others.

Character development, guided by the IB learner profile, permeates every element of the school, from academics to co-curricular activities to community engagement. It’s a comprehensive approach to education that not only imparts knowledge but also nurtures the values and qualities that define responsible and compassionate global citizens.

Shaping Stratford Hall’s Future: A Vision of Global Citizenship

Isabel embodies the role of a global citizen with an unwavering commitment to the school’s principles of pluralism and community. For Isabel, global citizenship transcends an international perspective; it’s about fostering inclusivity and celebrating diversity.

Isabel emphasizes the importance of environmental responsibility and the promotion of multilingual proficiency. She recognizes that proficiency in multiple languages serves as a powerful tool to connect with individuals from diverse backgrounds, deepening cultural insights. Isabel says, “Language is a bridge to understanding. It’s a means to connect with people from diverse backgrounds, fostering cross-cultural understanding.”

Critical thinking about global challenges and staying well-informed about world affairs are at the forefront of Isabel’s vision. Isabel passionately encourages students to move beyond national borders and become advocates for positive change, aligning perfectly with the IB programme’s emphasis on international-mindedness and holistic global understanding. Isabel states, “It’s not enough to just know facts; we need to think critically about global challenges and advocate for positive change.”

In envisioning the school’s future, Isabel sees herself in a strategic role working closely with the Head of School. Together, they aim to develop goals, initiatives, and external partnerships that propel Stratford Hall’s educational vision forward. For Isabel, this role involves strategic alignment across constituencies. As a relational leader, she thoughtfully builds genuine relationships with community members, including faculty and staff, current families, alumni, donors, and trustees. She emphasizes accessibility and high visibility in the community, recognizing the importance of these aspects.

Isabel also underscores her continuous collaboration with the administrative team, addressing adaptive challenges through the lens of the school’s mission, vision, and values. The collective effort aims to ensure the sustainability of a transformational learning environment for both current and future generations of children and adults.

Cultivating a Culture of Courage, Empathy, and Inclusion

For Isabel, the school she attended for twelve years left an indelible mark, instilling in her a profound appreciation for values that resonate deeply within her – courage, empathy, diversity, and inclusion. It was an environment where she felt safe, respected, and valued for her unique qualities and contributions. These values are the foundation of her approach as she leads her team and community.

Isabel’s leadership philosophy centres on creating an atmosphere where taking risks is celebrated and mistakes are seen as opportunities for growth. She encourages her team to always speak up, share their ideas, and express their authentic selves without fear. It’s a philosophy that fosters an environment where everyone’s voice matters.

As Isabel puts it, “When people genuinely understand and care about each other’s experiences and perspectives, it builds trust and connection. I am fully aware that I am never alone on my journey. That would be absolutely boring.”

For Isabel, the journey of creating a culture of courage, empathy, diversity, and inclusion is an ongoing one. She recognizes the need for continuous improvement and actively seeks feedback to adjust in her leadership style.

She remains guided by the values instilled in her since childhood, recognizing that her purpose on this earth is to give and serve, never for herself. It’s a philosophy that underscores her dedication to fostering a culture where everyone feels valued and heard.

For More Info:

Content Disclaimer

Related Articles