Humans of HAIS: Principal Brett
It’s 6.15 AM at Hoi An International School and before the rush and clamber of kids come tumbling through the gates, our Principal Brett can generally be found in his office with a cup of tea. At 7.45 AM he’ll make his way to the front gate where he’ll stand (tea in hand), ready to welcome the students.
This daily ritual is reflective of both his personal character as well as his own passion, determination, and genuine ‘want’ to be there to greet the children.
Mr Brett grew up in Sydney, Australia in a suburb called Bankstown. It was a working-class neighbourhood and traditional upbringing, with his tight-knit family, grandparents and extended family as regular fixtures around the dinner table.
Mr Brett also had an excellent history teacher, whom he credits for paving the way in his own journey into education.
“In year 11, I moved schools, and I chose Modern History. It was one of those ‘leap of faith’ sort of decisions, as it was not something that I had studied in year 9 and 10, but from the moment I walked into that class, I loved going. I was always the first one there because the teacher was amazing at capturing your imagination and bringing you into the story.”
“He was before his time and had the perfect mix of explicit instruction and an inquiry approach.”
If his history teacher laid the foundations for a career in education, leadership was certainly part of the genetic makeup, and Mr Brett’s teaching work eventually led to Vice Principal and then Principal roles.
Life at HAIS
Moving to Hoi An felt like a natural transition. Mr Brett’s wife, Tram Anh, is Vietnamese Australian, and the big picture plan – that long term goal, always included time with the kids in Vietnam.
As Mr Brett said; “At the time I loved being an educator and I wanted to remain in education, and if we were to go to Vietnam and I could find a place that really fit well with my own values then that would just be perfect.”
“If I was writing a book about my life, that’s how the book would play out.”
Luckily, HAIS had just opened its doors and approached Mr Brett to come on board.
“What sort of caught me was the idea of this holistic education in this wonderful UNESCO town of Hoi An. And when I came into the school and had a look around… I’d read about the Founder Ms An, and I just thought – this is a new school with an inspiring mission and there’s a great opportunity here. There will obviously be a lot of hard work and challenge in the early days, but I knew that this could be a fantastic place.”
At HAIS, Mr Brett has been integral in setting a calm and grounded tone, managing communication, and responding to events (or global pandemics as it were). The school was only two years old when COVID hit, and of course, needed effective and dynamic responses. Mr Brett navigated this uncharted territory and held the staff and students through the storm.
The Hoi An and Da Nang communities have also been receptive to Mr Brett’s model of schooling. Feedback often comes from parents who have jumped to HAIS from other local schools due to positive word of mouth from staff and parents. These outcomes are not only a matter of perception – through the pandemic, HAIS has had admissions growth of roughly 40%. But it’s that cautious, steady, and sustainable growth that has allowed it to thrive.
When asked what defines a good school – Mr Brett comes back to the phrase ‘student-centred’.
“Every time we sit down and look at a decision at the school, it needs to be, how does this benefit the students who are entrusted to our care? How is this going to improve educational outcomes? How is this going to translate into more excitement for the students?”
With four children at the school, Brett sees everything through the lens of both Principal and father. With both hats, he’s able to have an operational standpoint, as well as the perspective of a parent. He also has a firm belief that knowing each individual student and their capabilities will inspire confidence.
“As a student you need to feel supported in the journey. And that it is not just coming into class and learning about an equation. It’s attitudinal. And that’s why academic care and pastoral programmes are vitally important and need to be mutually supportive.”
“When our students feel confident and engaged, can embrace strengths and weaknesses, and recognise that the teacher knows them as individuals, then maximum educational impact can be achieved. And why? Because personalised knowledge helps to generate a positive mindset and students with a positive mindset tend to be resilient, determined and so on.”
To further his point, Mr Brett’s love of rugby league can’t help but wrestle its way into his educational discourse.
“I mean there is a big difference between losing and failing. Losing reflects the score, whereas failing reflects the attitude. If I’m coaching a rugby league team for example and we lose on the scoreboard, then that’s just a numbers thing. But if I say to the players, you failed out there today, that reflects attitude and a lack of determination.”
Like Mr Brett’s own play in rugby league, it seems he never takes a backwards step and will roll up his sleeves and support his staff when needed. It’s no ‘one-man-band’ approach, but a collective view of working together to achieve excellence.
And it’s this team mentality, and good humour, that has set the tone for the school. He loves a chat, and by all accounts, his own school report cards also indicated as such;
“I worked hard but I also liked to chat. One of the things Mum used to say to me regularly when the report would come out, it was always – Brett’s doing exceptionally well… but….and the but was always… could talk less in class.”
It seems that the way in which he leads never detours from his own personal truth – reflecting his quality of strong moral principles, honesty and the true lens of a parent. Beyond that, it’s the deeply humane and compassionate eye on student well-being and creating a place that is welcoming to all.
Brett put it all perfectly when asked about his own sentiments on the school motto ‘Find your Passion. Realise your Dream.’
“I like welcoming the students into the school. I enjoy the conversations I have with colleagues. And going back to the father question, I love being out there in the morning and seeing my children with smiles on their faces enjoying the game of handball or whatever they might be doing. So for me, the passion is absolutely there. And do I think it’s a dream. I do.”