Nestled in the idyllic village of Verbier, Switzerland, where the majestic Alps greet the sky, a tale of transformation unfolds. Dr. Hugh McCormick, the Founder and Headteacher of Copperfield International School, is not just an educator; he’s a storyteller, a mentor, and a wellspring of inspiration. Born into a family where learning and empathy flowed like a gentle stream, it’s no wonder Dr. McCormick found his calling in teaching. His father, a Professor of Economics, and his mother, a Child Psychologist, cultivated an environment where helping others and unraveling the mysteries of the world were daily pursuits. “Our family culture was about helping people and explaining things, and these two paths just merged for me into teaching,” says Dr. McCormick.
Before Copperfield, Dr. McCormick’s journey through academia led him to the University of Oxford, where he earned an MPhil and DPhil in Political Philosophy. But the siren calls of investment banking briefly lured him away, with positions at Macquarie and UBS. Yet, the allure of finance couldn’t eclipse his true passion – education. With this conviction, he transitioned to teaching, bringing his passion for knowledge and an unshakeable belief in each student’s potential to top British schools. In 2022, Dr. McCormick earned a Master’s in Educational Leadership and School Improvement, with Distinction, from the University of Cambridge. This was a pivotal moment, equipping him with the knowledge to shape the future of education.
Then, amidst a world-changing pandemic, an extraordinary opportunity beckoned – the chance to turn his dream into reality. Captivated by Verbier’s serene beauty and boundless potential, he founded Copperfield International School. “Why Verbier? The mountains have an unmatched serenity, and I always thought they would be ideal for a school. In the pandemic, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity arose to go after this ideal, so I took it!” says Dr. McCormick. At Copperfield, Dr. McCormick leads a team dedicated to providing an inspiring character-based education to all students. The mission is clear: to nurture not only academic excellence but also the values and character traits that will mold future leaders and change-makers.
Success, on one’s own terms, often transcends the boundaries of the classroom. It is rooted in the wisdom shared through aphorisms and the examples set by family members or mentors. Furthermore, it blossoms through the pursuit of passions, whatever they may be. The choice of one’s hobby significantly shapes the lessons learned. “I am ambitious for students in the classroom and – even more – for each student to learn to influence their own character. I believe this kind of work, albeit difficult, is feasible and high impact,” shares Dr. McCormick.
In education, teachers often find themselves navigating the terrain sculpted by administrative decisions, often influenced by the complex landscape of staffing. Once such a culture is entrenched, breaking free can be a formidable task. Dr. McCormick explains, “Starting off with a new faculty in a new school provided an opportunity to set a student-focused culture ab initio, and we do this by returning each time to ask what is best for the students. This can lead to surprising places for the adults involved, and consequently, decisions that require more explanation and patience.”
Embarking on a Remarkable Educational Journey
Creating a school in just months is no small feat, but for Dr. McCormick, it was an adventure filled with challenges. He reflects, “Starting a school is a community effort that touches every aspect of our small mountain community. When you’re new to the scene, you face hurdles, and it demands humility, open dialogue with the community, and personal growth. My biggest challenge? Well, my family was in the UK, and the school was in Switzerland, so I traveled a lot during the pandemic.”
Dr. McCormick’s vision for Copperfield is unique. He says, “Starting a new school allows us to build from scratch, embracing fresh ideas to keep our school vibrant. We work closely across departments to create innovative strategies that benefit everyone.” The school’s strong partnership with the Verbier community is evident through events such as the annual student-parent ski race, which inclusively engages residents of Verbier. Notably, Copperfield had the privilege of hosting Chelsea Football Club for a special training weekend last year, which achieved remarkable success. “We shall be opening this event to the other schools here in Verbier to share this amazing opportunity with other children,” adds Dr. McCormick.
With an international faculty and a diverse student body, Copperfield International School takes pride in embracing a vast array of literature spanning different cultures and historical epochs. Dr. Hugh McCormick shares, “This approach is instrumental in educating our students about the richness and diversity of celebrated religions, traditions, and global events. To facilitate this, we invite authors, filmmakers, and subject-matter experts who share their insights through talks and workshops.” Moreover, the school urges students to create multimedia presentations, podcasts, and short films directly tied to the curriculum. This approach ensures that students not only acquire knowledge but also engage with it in a profound and creative manner.
Exploring Wisdom, Courage, and Trust in Leadership
Dr. McCormick loves exploring ideas with his colleagues, watching brilliant films and reading literature. He says, “Aside from the obvious Charles Dickens, I am a big fan of epic novels and cinema – Tolstoy being my favorite. His key message is that wisdom comes through suffering; in my experience, this has certainly been so.” Dr. McCormick also enjoys a challenge of any nature, whether a Spartan Race or skiing Verbier’s most demanding pistes. These experiences have instilled in him the values of courage and unwavering focus.
“In the face of many sporting challenges, there’s a moment of fear and trepidation at the starting line. However, this fear quickly transforms into a laser-like focus on the task at hand and the actionable steps required to overcome it,” opines Dr. McCormick. This aspect of sports mirrors leadership in the sense that influential leaders concentrate on what can be done in the present and the immediate future rather than dwelling on past mistakes or dwelling on the seemingly impossible. Dr. McCormick asserts that it takes tremendous courage to adopt this perspective and lead with determination.
Another pivotal lesson from these challenges, according to Dr. McCormick, is the critical role of trust in leadership. In sports and leadership alike, trust is the bedrock upon which effective teamwork and progress are built. “As a leader, fostering an environment where your team understands that you trust them and that your support is readily available if needed is paramount. When trust is firmly established, it becomes possible for everyone to march together in a sustained and unified manner, heading in the right direction. Many leaders may set the course, but without trust, they’ll find themselves navigating it alone,” emphasizes Dr. McCormick. In a nutshell, Dr. McCormick believes that these physical challenges have taught him that leadership is not only about setting the direction but also about having the courage to focus on the present, build trust, and inspire a team to journey together toward a common goal.
A Multifaceted Journey in Education and Finance
Dr. McCormick’s educational journey traverses a diverse array of disciplines, including Politics, Philosophy, Economics, and Political Philosophy, all of which have significantly contributed to his leadership in the field of education. He elaborates, “Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE) studies foster a versatile and transferrable skill set, particularly emphasizing critical thinking and analysis. PPE graduates often possess a reputation for assertiveness. This might be because they develop robust analytical skills early in their professional journey, and at that stage, they may lack the extensive experience that would temper their analytical inclinations.” For Dr. McCormick, this academic background proved invaluable in navigating the complexities of launching a school, covering areas such as education, regulation, governance, and business. Furthermore, reflecting on the experiences of PPE graduates has helped him cultivate humility.
On the flip side, drawing from his experiences as an investment banker, Dr. McCormick highlights, “In the realm of finance, when performance is at its zenith, investment bankers allocate capital judiciously, directing it where it can yield productivity while preventing it from going to less fruitful ventures.” Dr. McCormick, during his time in finance, recognized the responsibility of investing pensioners’ funds and, consequently, prioritized ethical and sustainable investment practices. His tenure at Macquarie, known for its commitment to ethical and sustainable finance, allowed him to collaborate with exceptional colleagues. “Some bankers do not perform well, and when money is put to unproductive uses, a lot of negative feeling is generated. Whereas bankers allocate wealth on behalf of older generations, teachers perform an analogous function, allocating knowledge to and on behalf of younger and future generations.”
Dr. McCormick has also completed a Master’s in Educational Leadership and School Improvement, which is commendable. In fact, he had applied for this Master’s program before founding the school without expecting to be accepted. Dr. McCormick recalls, “When the acceptance letter from Cambridge arrived, I faced a significant decision! Perhaps the most valuable lessons it taught me were related to multi-tasking and acceptance.” Balancing the demands of graduate studies while simultaneously launching the school necessitated careful triage, acknowledging that he couldn’t do everything. This challenge led to an enhancement of his delegation skills, an area where many leaders often encounter difficulties. “I had no alternative but to delegate, and this decision unlocked the potential of those around me to a far greater extent than if I had attempted to do it all,” adds Dr. McCormick.
Nurturing Excellence in Education
Copperfield International School’s motto, ‘Have the courage to be imperfect,’ encapsulates its ethos. “Our is to ensure that students experience happiness during their time at school while understanding that there is always room for learning, improvement, and deriving lessons from imperfect moments,” states Dr. McCormick. The school recognizes the significance of good grades, which can open doors to future opportunities. However, it also places great value on creating an environment where students feel supported by both their teachers and peers, fostering personal growth beyond academic achievements. This holistic approach to education aims to nurture young adults who can thrive in various aspects of life.
In line with its commitment to providing an exceptional learning environment, Copperfield International School has embarked on a three-year development plan to enhance its facilities in Verbier. Recognizing the importance of high-quality spaces in optimizing the learning experience, the school recently refurbished its primary classrooms over the summer. These renovations have resulted in more open and brighter classroom spaces equipped with floor-to-ceiling writable walls, smart TVs, and iPads in each room. “Space has a big impact on learning, and this has been key for us from the start,” pinpoints Dr. McCormick. Copperfield International School’s unwavering commitment to delivering exceptional education is evident in the remarkable advancements they have made. These enhancements are a clear indication of the school’s dedication to providing top-tier education to its students.
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