Staff Spotlight: Philip Schonken, Deputy Head Pastoral

In our Staff Spotlight series we are speaking with our fantastic Gordonstoun staff and getting an insight into what makes them tick. Meet Philip Schonken, our Deputy Head Pastoral who has been with Gordonstoun for over 13 years. An ordained Priest and avid surf enthusiast, he brings a unique blend of experience to our community.

Tell me a bit about yourself, what you do, and how long have you worked at Gordonstoun.

I have worked at Gordonstoun since September 2010, I started at Gordonstoun as a Housemaster of Round Square which I did for six years. Then I moved out of that into International Coordinator before taking over the chaplaincy of the school. In April 2020 I was asked to step up to be Deputy Head Pastoral.

Currently, I look after the Pastoral Team including all the boarding houses, the healthcare centre, and having relationships with the refectory around healthy eating - we look after everything outside of the formal curriculum to make sure our students are looked after, happy, and well.

What is the best thing about working at Gordonstoun?

The best bit about my job is student interaction, being engaged in teaching, involved in activities, involved in services, I really value that time.

What makes Gordonstoun great is what it says on the tin, for me it’s always been about service. I’ve been a lifeguard since the early nineties, and being able to train young people to be of active service has been a massive, massive plus for me.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Probably successfully raising two children would be my personal achievement - although I’m not sure they’re adults yet!

I suppose that at the age of 52 that I can still pass a surf lifesaving qualification - you have to swim 400m in under 8 minutes, complete five rescues out to sea unaided, and two with a torpedo buoy conscious and unconscious casualty, and two board rescues, and a whole lot of first aid theory.

I bought my first surfboard at the age of 14, but I have been playing in waves since I was knee high. I remember clearly being at the beach with my family when I was young, I was on a hard bodyboard, and this massive wave just engulfed me. I saw my mum running up the shoreline to me, and I just came out with a big smile on my face, and went “again again!”. So playing in waves, I’ve done that since I was a toddler.

I have my South African national colours for surfing, which I was awarded in ‘97 - I don’t surf at that level anymore, but still just being able to take the drop and surf a really nice wave, is an achievement in itself.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A lazy day with mates and family, surfing a really good wave, and afterwards having a fire, and sharing friendship and comradery, that's it. Spending time with people you love, doing stuff you love, and having a good chat and a fire.

What is something surprising about you?

It depends where you come from. I’m an ordained Anglican priest, I have been studying for the last six years doing a theology degree.

Another, I have surfed on all continents except Asia and Antarctica.

What talent would you most like to have?

Teleportation. So I can get to places quickly, I don’t have to go through the pains of waiting in queues for travelling.

What would you use it for?

To surf! And I’d use it to go and see friends and family; when people need you to go, like my best friend who’s still in South Africa, or maybe a family member who is struggling, bang - I’m there.

If you could teleport anywhere to go surfing right now, where would you choose?

Australia is in darkness, Hawaii is too early to wake up, so right now California probably? I’d have a look at some of the Californian coasts, although it’s still winter there, so I might go down to some South American breaks.

Is there a quote or saying you live your life by?

“The cure for anything is saltwater - sweat, tears or the sea”. It’s a quote that I came across a number of years ago that has really resonated with me.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?

It’s often having the space to recognise why the people we are dealing with are responding the way they’re responding, and trying to find space to understand where they’re coming from, rather than just reacting based on emotions. That’s one of the biggest challenges.

What is your guilty pleasure?

If it hasn’t come through the interview yet, a bit of beach time!

Thanks to Philip for taking the time to chat with us!

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