Building a Sense of Community at Dwight Global: An Interview with Dean Anthea Lake

Anthea Lake, Dean of Student Life at Dwight Global, has lived and taught in Egypt, Spain, Italy, England, and Germany, as well as in schools across the U.S. 

She has a Ph.D. and a master’s in Professional Studies in Education and is the author of Business Enterprise Education, a book that uses a case-study approach to help schools implement business and enterprise classes. Overall, she has been a teacher for 30 years, and has expertise in teaching AP, IB, and online classes. Along with being Dean of Student Life at Dwight Global, she’s Dean of the Middle School and also teaches courses in psychology and business. But more than anything, she sees her main role at Dwight Global as building community.
“Our students come from all over the world, but what they have in common is that they all want to learn while feeling a part of something bigger than themselves,” she says. “What I love about my job is building a strong sense of community and belonging at Dwight Global.”
In this Q&A, Dr. Lake discusses her background, teaching, and how she builds community at Dwight Global, which she believes is the world’s best online school.  

How did you get into teaching?
I come from a family of teachers who work in schools, colleges, and universities in the UK and worldwide. My father is from Anguilla, and my mother is from St. Lucia. My father was one of the first black head teachers in London—at a high school called Sladebrook Comprehensive. When he retired, he went back to his homeland of Anguilla for a few years and took over the local high school, which was run by his cousin Albena. She was a teacher, a politician and freedom fighter for her nation, and in her honor the school is named the Albena Lake-Hodge Comprehensive school. I was inspired by their great work to become a teacher. 
As Dean of Student Life, what is your main responsibility? And what do you like most about your job?
One of the things I enjoy is creating a sense of community. Remember: We are an online school, and the Internet has no walls. We may live in different time zones and countries but we come together as one. One way I’ve built community is by introducing the house system, which is part of the British educational system. At the start of the year, students are assigned to one of four houses: red, blue, yellow, or green. The houses provide a feeling of belonging and tradition and offer students a chance to be leaders. Each house has a captain who encourages students to get involved. The houses compete throughout the school year in various contests, and the winning house accumulates points. At the end of the year, the house with the most points is the winner. But it’s less about winning and more about bonding and making lasting friendships. No one wants to feel left out or alone. The house system gives students a sense of belonging—the houses form such strong bonds. And that gives our students confidence and spirit. 
What I like best about being Dean is the student-centered nature of my job, which allows me to adapt to the needs of the students. And I especially love how our students are always willing to participate in extracurricular activities.
Did the school you attended as a girl have a house system? 
Yes. My school had a house system in which helped me form lifelong friendships. That’s why I introduced the house system to Dwight Global. The school also has around 30 clubs, and a weekly newsletter, and we have advisories every week, where students get to know their teachers and the staff. We are an online school with a strong sense of community and camaraderie. That’s the foundation for what makes us a great online school. 
You are also the Dean of the middle school. What is that like?  
We have about 50 children in our middle school—7th and 8th graders. Many of them have unbelievable accomplishments. We have actors and athletes, musicians, and dancers. We have a golfer, a concert pianist, and a world champion in martial arts.  We also have students passionate about robotics, politics, leadership, and coding. The children work so hard at their individual passions, and that effort carries over into everything they do, including their schoolwork. 

Can you discuss the book you wrote, and how that influences your teaching
My book, Business Enterprise Education, is a case study approach to helping schools implement a culture of business and enterprise, from years 7-13 (the UK high school years). It was first written in 2009 as a practical guide to implementing the UK’s specialist schools initiative. It helps teachers design curriculum and experiences for students, and gives them an opportunity to learn by doing, by for instance creating their own business plans and investment strategies. I use experiential and hands-on learning in my DG classes. I teach psychology and business, and use the ideas set forth in the book about hands-on learning. In my Business and Entrepreneur class, I have my students set up companies and apply for hypothetical $500,000 loans. This involves the students putting together a business plan, including financial and market planning, in the first trimester. As the school year progresses, and as we study a topic, the students implement their newfound knowledge into the growth and development of their ‘businesses.’ They regularly present their companies’ progress in class, and often compete to see who can make the most money, which they love. It also helps to develop their real-world experience and knowledge. 

I also teach psychology to high school students. And here too, the students work on hands-on research projects. Throughout the year, they plan and execute experiments to test existing theories. For the end of the year project, the students are allowed to investigate a topic or theory. This can be done as a research project, similar to the IB extended essay, or as an experiment.  One student researched how Covid lockdowns affected our ability to socialize with each other. Another student studied what effect screens, or watching them, has on our neurological development. An amazing thing about the DG faculty and students is how willing so many of them are to be subjects in the experiments—to enthusiastically volunteer and participate.

You have an expertise in teaching the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.  How does that inform your teaching and deanships? 
Since its inception, Dwight Global has offered International Baccalaureate courses. And, as a member of the Dwight Schools network, which is known for its IB programs, Dwight Global reflects the values of the IB. That is to say, the IB helps us develop well-rounded and caring students who respond to challenges confidently. The IB is also a good fit for us since DG is a global school with students (and teachers) from around the world. I, for instance, live in Bloxham, Oxfordshire, a small English town.

You love working at Dwight Global and think it’s the best online school. Why?
I love the range of activities the students are involved in outside their academic work, and the flexibility that DG offers them, which allows them to excel in their passions and in school. We have dancers, tennis players, actors, synchronized divers, skiers, as well as a squash player and an archer. Some of our students have major roles in movies and TV shows. What I love is that DG gives them the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. They have time to be number one in their professional pursuits, yet still get an excellent education. It’s the flexibility DG offers students that I love. They get to combine a world-class education alongside their sparks of genius. 
I was a competitive sprint hurdler in high school, but I didn’t have a flexible schedule. I had to study in between races and sometimes miss classes to compete at regional and national competitions. I remember taking my exams and racing on the same day. That’s why I’m delighted that DG gives students such great opportunities. We also award financial aid to many students. The financial aid means that Dwight Global is open to a diverse range of students from all backgrounds. That’s absolutely wonderful.