In February 2023, the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government Press Office and the Xinmin Evening News jointly planned a hundred-episode multimedia series called “The Centenary of the Great Party: Expats Tell Stories”. One hundred expats living and working in Shanghai were invited to share their experiences and insights about China and Shanghai. Ms. Dianne, Vice Principal of SUIS Shangyin, was fortunate enough to be invited and interviewed.
Ms. Julia Dianne Larcombe
Vice Principal, SUIS Shangyin
The Origin of “Grandma Principal” at Shangyin
“Grandma Principal” is the nickname that students at Shangyin give to Ms. Dianne, who greets them every day at the school gate with a kind and loving smile. It is their sincerest expression of emotion towards Principal Dianne. For the teachers, Ms. Dianne is a respected member of the school management, a life mentor in education and teaching, a family member who strives to help everyone with their troubles, and a trustworthy and like-minded partner. Most importantly, she is the spiritual leader of Shangyin – with Ms. Dianne around, everyone feels at ease. Therefore, colleagues at Shangyin also affectionately call her “Grandma Principal” along with the children.
Greeting children at the school gate every day
To establish a good school, you must build close connections with teachers and students.
Becoming an educator was a childhood dream inspired by Ms. Lorene Everett, Dianne’s first-grade teacher. Decades later, Ms. Dianne, now a principal, still remembers and appreciates that young, kind teacher who cared for every child. Her own career path as an educator seemed destined.
At 19, while studying at the University of Alberta, Ms. Dianne met Ms. Everett again, who was now at that time both a professor and her academic advisor. This reunion strengthened her conviction to become an educator. This special connection made Ms. Dianne realize the profound impact of building intimate relationships with students throughout her long career.
After graduation, Ms. Dianne worked her first six years in Alberta, Canada, commuting 60 kilometers every day. From 6 am to 6 pm, she worked hard at honing and refining her teaching with the passion of a new teacher, full of energy and tireless. She remembered how Ms. Everett treated her when she was in first grade, and used that as a model to pour her emotions and love into her own students.
Later, Ms. Dianne’s family moved to Kaslo, BC, where she worked at J.V. Humphries School for 19 years, a significant chapter in her career. Ms. Dianne speaks of this school with pride, as the principal always emphasized building connections among the school, teachers, and students. The design and construction of the entire school were decisions made by all the teachers, who created the most thoughtful designs based on student and subject characteristics. For decades, teachers cherished the school, treating it as their own home. The philosophy of the J.V. Humphries’ principal deeply influenced her, and she reshaped it into her own educational philosophy through years of practical experience and a profound understanding of education. One day in 2012 when Dianne visited Xiehe, she learned that Mr. Kas Angelski, the former principal of J.V. Humphries, whom she deeply respected, was a principal and consultant with Xiehe. This coincidence, spanning 10,000 kilometers, made Ms. Dianne more convinced that becoming a principal in China was destiny’s arrangement.
J.V. Humphries School
J.V. Humphries school playground after a snowfall
During her 19 years working at J.V. Humphries, it was a crucial period for her to grow into a mature teacher and educational administrator. After another family relocation, Principal Dianne went to another school and served as a principal for 5 years. In 2012, she began her story with China and the Shangyin Campus. Understanding her past experiences, we increasingly realize why Ms. Dianne is one of the spiritual leaders of Shangyin and why she treats Shangyin’s students and teachers like her own children and grandchildren and interacts with parents and friends in the same way. This is because Ms. Dianne has always believed that education faces every individual with unique personalities, and the close connections between people are the premise for positive influences on individuals. Her educational philosophy has also strongly promoted and influenced the development of the Shangyin Campus’ management team.
First day at the Shangyin Campus, 2012
In 2018, due to family reasons, Ms. Dianne left Shangyin. After receiving an invitation from Ms. Spring, Vice Principal of SUIS Shangyin, on November 1, 2021, she overcame various challenges brought by the pandemic (e.g. with visas and flights), and without hesitation, rented out her own house back in Canada. Even if she needed to stay in a hotel or her daughter’s home, she never wavered in her determination to return to Shangyin immediately. She said that Shangyin, a school that blends Chinese and Western cultures, is her ideal school, where educational philosophies incorporate academic wisdom, cultural background, and leadership ability. Indeed, the rich blend of Chinese and Western cultures at Shangyin stems from the leadership team’s words and deeds along with nearly 20 years of diverse educational experiences and wisdom accumulated by Chinese and foreign teachers.
In early April 2022, when Ms. Dianne arrived in Shanghai, it was during the period of the strictest lockdown. She immediately started her work online from a quarantine hotel room that was only a dozen square meters in size. For two months, Ms. Dianne walked an average of 20,000 steps a day in her hotel room, saying that she wanted to keep healthy and energetic so that she could ‘dive into work’ after the lockdown was finished. Life is not always satisfactory, and the pandemic always seemed to generate some heavy emotions intermittently. However, Ms. Dianne always used her optimistic, positive, and heartwarming words and actions to help Shangyin rejuvenate with vitality.
The first day of the new semester (2022) – Principal Dianne and Principal Spring greet children at the gate
A love for sports, a love for reading, a truly lifelong-learner
Ms. Dianne has always loved reading, and she firmly believes that books are not only a path to acquiring knowledge, but also friends to children. Especially for introverted children, reading can improve their social skills. Therefore, she has always insisted that the Shangyin Campus needed to renovate its own teacher development center and student learning resource center. Resulting from Dianne’s and the school leaders’ combined efforts, Shangyin experienced a transformation that saw two brand new centers established on the campus. This made teachers and children overjoyed.
The newly renovated Learning Resource Center at Shangyin
It was also due to her strong belief in the importance of reading in children’s lives that Ms. Dianne made the decision to leave her beloved Shangyin Campus in 2018 and return to Canada to teach her own grandson, who had some reading difficulties. Through her careful guidance and companionship, her grandson has overcome his reading difficulties and become a successful ninth-grade student. Shangyin places great importance on bilingual reading for children and cultivates their love of reading through various means, encouraging daily reading through a variety of interesting campus activities. The students especially enjoy their reading time in the library. Today, we still often see Ms. Dianne accompanying children to read when substituting for teachers. She says that we all need to learn how to think with our brains and feel with our hearts through reading, and to understand the vast world beyond.
In her Canadian schools, Ms. Dianne takes turns accompanying children for individual reading support every day.
Sports is another major interest of Ms. Dianne. She used to play soccer with boys when she was young. When she started participating in soccer matches, it meant being away from the noisy world and focusing only on the game itself and the teamwork with her teammates in order to win the game. This not only gave Dianne a healthy body, but also shaped her ability to think, focus on tasks, react quickly to challenges, and embrace difficulties with courage, which are all valuable qualities that accompany her throughout her life and lay a solid foundation for her to become an excellent manager in the future.
Dianne (second row, third from the left) in the cross-country running team in her hometown (1971)
Ms. Dianne also enjoys running, and she appreciates the amazing physical and mental changes that come with it. Marathons, which require perseverance and endurance, were also one of Ms. Dianne’s hobbies. Occasionally, when a physical education teacher takes leave, you will find Ms. Dianne teaching sports classes to students; she also enjoys the time spent exercising with them.
Participating in the Colour Run charity event
After arriving in China, Ms. Dianne has been learning Chinese and Chinese culture while continuously participating in various online learning courses. Through her actions, she has shown that she is not only an outstanding educational manager, but also a versatile teaching expert and a model of lifelong learning.
At the anniversary celebration of Xiehe Education
The Visibility of Ms. Dianne
Over the years working at Shangyin, Ms. Dianne has almost always been the first person to arrive on campus in the morning and the last to leave after turning off the lights. While expats typically prioritize their work hours and rarely work overtime, a common perception held by Chinese people, Ms. Dianne is an exception. Even on weekend and during summer and winter breaks, it is common to see her working late in the school office or on her way to various educational activities. During online teaching periods, any message sent to Ms. Dianne receives a prompt reply from her, as if she never sleeps, still managing to maintain her energy. Her dedication and professionalism exemplify what it truly means to be a tireless educator.
Attending a job fair on weekends
Adjusting classroom equipment and preparing for substitute teaching
When the campus closed due to the pandemic and transitioned to offering online instruction, it was a challenge for everyone. Nevertheless, if any teacher needed support, Ms. Dianne would help solve their problems through different working channels, no matter how small. She said that even though this challenging time was filled with hardships, we also experienced many emotions that we had never felt before. We became reacquainted with caring colleagues who are not eloquent speakers, re-examined issues we had never thought about before, and were more aware of the difficulties of ordinary life.
Performing in a music concert with the students
In an interview with Xinmin Evening News, Ms. Dianne said, “Making a positive contribution to society through labour is what we should do. ” She believes that it not only need to to cultivate students’ international perspectives but also their work ethic. Labour is not just about earning money, but also providing services and creating value for society.
After Xinmin Evening News published the interview, it quickly spread among parents, and some of them jokingly suggested that she could become a famous internet celebrity principal in China. Usually, at this point, Ms. Dianne would blush, shyly wave her hand, and say “no no no,” like a cute child.
Shangyin is fortunate to have such a principal colleagues. Shangyin’s colleages also understand that they need to learn from this “Grandma Principal” and maintain firmness, love, learning, reverence, and humility. We firmly believe that with Ms. Dianne, Shangyin will step forward steadily and go further in the future.