Classrooms Are Complex Environments

In a single day the classroom teacher may participate in more than 1 000 interpersonal exchanges with students. Not only do teachers have numerous interactions with students, they must also interpret complex classroom behaviour on the spot. For the international school teacher, where their classroom’s are often a diverse mixture of cultural backgrounds, interpreting meaning becomes more challenging.

In a single day the classroom teacher may participate in more than 1 000 interpersonal exchanges with students. Not only do teachers have numerous interactions with students, they must also interpret complex classroom behaviour on the spot. For the international school teacher, where their classroom’s are often a diverse mixture of cultural backgrounds, interpreting meaning becomes more challenging.

It is not surprising that most teachers are hard pressed to keep track of the number and the substance of contacts that they share with each pupil each day. Although it may not be important for a teacher to remember all classroom contacts; teachers must recall certain information (i.e. a student who has trouble with specific blend during reading, or understanding that the numeral 1 in the 10s column is ten and not one, etc) and then be able to act upon that specific information.

Because teachers constantly respond to the immediate needs of the students while they teach, they have little time during teaching to consider future planning for their class. This classroom preparation is completed outside school time, often unseen by the general parent population and reflects the complex events that occur within the classroom.

When teachers make decisions about the activity within their classrooms the following aspects of classroom settings must be taken into consideration.

  1. Many different tasks and events exist in the classroom. Records and schedules must be kept and work must be monitored, collected and evaluated. A single event can have multiple consequences.
  2. Many things happen at the same time in classrooms. During a discussion a teacher not only listens and helps improve students’ answers but also monitors students who do not respond for signs of comprehension and tries to keep the lesson moving at a good pace.
  3. The pace of classroom events is rapid. Research suggests that teachers evaluated pupil conduct in public on the average of 15.89 times per hour or 87 times per day or an estimated 16 000 times a year. Time is all too important and needs to be utilised carefully.
  4. While a teacher is thoroughly prepared for each day, often many events that occur are unanticipated. These include interruptions student behaviour, achievement levels and expectations. Furthermore, much of what happens to a student is seen by many other students as well and they make their own judgments. Student esteem is important and therefore decisions need to be consistent.
  5. Actions/,programmes and expectations all play a part in developing background for decision making. Research suggests that history often influences that way classrooms run. (We have all heard of the great class/ difficult class.)

Co-ordinating student learning and providing the opportunities to grow is a complex task. Parental support in providing information is always appreciated. Informed decision making is an ideal we strive for. To increase the positive aspects of schooling it is imperative that support for out teachers is publicly acclaimed.

Remember, self esteem of teachers is an important part of the education process. Be proud of them and offer them your support. They have your child’s interest in their hearts.

Experience is a Great Teacher

As a school principal for many years I have learnt that experience might not always be the “best” teacher, but it almost always results in the most enduring lessons.

We know from research (and by experiences) that a great teacher will create ways to give our students the reason to learn specific skills or knowledge.  Great teachers then provide the opportunity to demonstrate their learning. A great teacher will keep the students wanting to come to school just to see what interesting things they will explore and discover each day. We call this inquiry.

To produce great teachers you need leaders who are capable of taking risks, to support staff during tough times and to hold fast when others  begin to falter. Principals are the central piece in the learning journey and the key factor in building teacher teaching experience. They need to be able to communicate their support for teachers to take measured risks and in doing so work closely with their teachers; side by side in discussion and planning.

Principals that encourage build learning experiences for their teachers (and not just offering PD courses) and seek justification on the teaching practices used. Such principals instill a reflective practice that engages teachers in examining their teaching practice. A desire to self improve is the outcome of such deliberations.

Given the plethora of research around the teacher being the biggest factor in raising student achievement, the way we treat and support our leaders could well be the most important determiner of an education authority’s success.

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Albert Einstein once said “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards”. I think the success of experience can be determined by how we implement the lessons learnt.

Building Teacher Professional Learning

One of the benefits of leading an international school is the opportunity to engage in a mix of cultural backgrounds. One of the challenges of leading an international school is the drawing together of a mix of international teachers. While the goal of every principal or head of school is to raise student achievement, the path one takes may be as diverse as the teachers on their staff.

Educators interested in the international arena may enjoy reading the article, Raising Student Achievement: The work of the Internationally Minded Teacher which can be found at the International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change (www.ijicc.net).

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Focusing on the Big Picture – Setting the Scene

I have been in Dubai for 8 weeks now and have been bowled over by many things; the climate, the unprecedented growth (people, buildings and business) and the enthusiasm people have for learning.

Meeting my new leadership team, getting to know them (and them to know me), setting up the parameters for how we are going to work together and learning about their personal vision and dreams for the school was uplifting. As a new leader, in a new country, in a new system garnering the support of your leadership team was an important foundational step. They need to know what your thoughts are so they can reflect on how to connect their vision with yours.

For me it is important to start with a focus on the ‘bigger picture’ so that there is a clear understanding of where the school is headed, whether the right culture, competences and resources are in place to support that journey and if the learning framework is right to achieve the defined goals of the school. In essence, it’s about ensuring that the school is focused on the longer term and not just the here and now, important as that may be.

For a young school where the focus is shifting from ‘setting up’ school practices to building the next phase in the journey, keeping an eye on the big picture is one of the main roles of the designated leader.

 

Driving in Dubai

No matter how much someone tells you how a particular experience will be, it is not until you experience first hand that you ‘really’ understand. This was my experience with driving in Dubai.

Firstly I had to contend with the left hand drive phenomenon. It felt not only like I was driving a sidecar motorbike but also I felt like the car was going to topple over. Years of looking right, then left, then right again is a bad habit to overcome. Mark Treadwell, international guru on how the brain learns, says we can retrain our brain but I’m not sure he has driven in Dubai for a while.

The second phenomenon is the unexplained ability of the Dubai traffic to fit four lanes of traffic into three. A 15 km route to work in the morning takes around 25 minutes however, the return journey in the afternoon can take up to hour and a half.

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If there is a silver lining it might just be found in my pocket. Or more precisely in the savings. My first tank of petrol (66 litres) only cost me the equivalent of $33.00 Australian dollars.

The First Moments in a New Country

When you first arrive in a new country your senses are more alert as you experience the newness of the land. For me the Dubai airport was the gateway to this new world that I have been preparing for.

Stepping off the plane and into the terminal there was a sea of nations wandering through the terminal all seeking a hasty exit. The richness of many languages being uttered as families and travellers alike jostled through customs and immigration could be heard as you joined the crowd to the exit lines.

Once through the security and into the open air I was first hit by the heat. Arriving in mid August, it should be expected that the temperature would be in the high 30s but probably not at 4:30 am.

This is a land that needs exploring!

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Arriving in Dubai

My arrival into Dubai has been quite a whirlwind with many of the great hallmarks of “misadventure”, beginning with the initial packing of bags and deciding what to bring. Being a reflective fellow I thoughtfully laid out my clothes on the bed and was feeling confident that I had covered all bases. I then began to ponder about my new life overseas. Can this suitcase of clothes define my future? Given that I was moving overseas, was this all I needed to live my new life?

packing pageWith a suitcase that weighed 27.8 kgs I embarked on the journey to Dubai. Having noted my seat was close to an exit, giving me more leg room, I was feeling confident about the 15 hour flight. Until the young couple with their 15 month old baby came and sat next to me. I took a closer look around and saw that I was sitting in the middle of a number of couples with their babies. With flight attendants scurrying around finding bassinets to hang on the wall and parents wielding large bags of baby gear, it was at that point I felt the rising panic and I wasn’t disappointed. The little one used his lungs to awaken his colleagues around me. And that continued well into the flight.

Having survived the flight and profound lack of sleep, albeit a little battled scarred, I was fortunate to be collected from the airport and taken to my accommodation. Besides the fact that for me, everyone was driving on the other side of the road, the sudden braking and accelerating that continued for the next 20 minutes as the car fought with other cars for positions in the lanes, certainly ensured the sleep deprivation was instantly cast aside. I was totally awake. (For the record, my first driving experience when I was behind the wheel is a story for another time).

The initial experiences of getting to Dubai was extremely interesting but, by necessity, needed to take back seat when focusing on the reason I was here. My first few days at school made the initial trip all worthwhile beginning with the induction of new staff.

IMG_0187 Continue reading “Arriving in Dubai”

A Time of ‘Lasts’

During the last few weeks before transitioning to a new appointment you have the opportunity to undertake things for the last time. The last staff meeting, the last report, the last breakfast gathering, the last Parent and Friends meeting, the last playground walk, the last assembly, and so forth.

Completing each final activity brings the reality of leaving a much loved school behind and as one does, it is an optimal time for reflection.  As a principal, the first part of reflection involves the professional, reviewing how successful your strategic plans have been, the impact upon the teaching and learning and the growth in teacher professional learning.

The second level of reflection focuses on the personal. When leaving, particularly after ten years of close working relationships, you development strong bonds with staff. Personally speaking, I am very grateful for the personal and professional relationships as they have helped to shape who I am today, my thinking, my views on issues and even influence my decision making. In a sense I am the sum of my relationships.

One of the positive things about beginning a new job is that it offers you the opportunity to apply your learnings in a new setting. While many people make excuses for not taking the time to reflect, citing busyness or lack of interest, the benefits, although not always immediate, are numerous.

In a funny sort of way doing things for the final time is in fact, preparing to do things for the first time.

Transition Week

A positive part of being appointed as principal of a new school is not only the opportunity to build upon your current experience but also to learn new skills.

How you approach your new role will have lasting effects on your leadership influence. Reading the school culture incorrectly could put you on the back foot and inhibit the quality of your decision making.

For me, a necessary beginning point is to visit the new school. There is nothing more important than meeting the people you are going to work with, taking the opportunity to immerse yourself into the culture of the school and getting an intuitive feel for how things operate. Visiting the school allows you to begin to ‘get a handle’ on school logistics.

My recent “Transition Week” at dar al Marefa offered the unique opportunity to begin my leadership journey at the school on the right foot. While everyone will have a few tips for the new principal, after having had a few principal appointments over the years, I find the following four insights useful in shaping how you should approach your new appointment:

1. Understanding History. Beginning with previous school improvement plans a new principal can digest the thinking that has shaped the school to be what it is today. To make effective decisions, the new leader needs to know why things are the way they are. Take time to understand the traditions, celebrations and why things run the way they do.

2. Get to know your staff and school community. In the early stages, (commonly know as the honeymoon period), it is imperative to develop positive relationships with each member of the community. Don’t forget spending time in classrooms and the playground to get to know the students.

3. Get Learning. Discovering what you don’t know is a key task in the early days. Locating the paperwork should be an initial goal. Reading the paperwork is the next! Items from parent handbooks to teacher appraisal processes to curriculum expectations help to establish an understanding of the school and most importantly, the culture.

4. Gather relevant information to design a short term action plan. While the school may have an action plan, as a new leader you bring a new ‘vision’ to the school and, after listening and learning, you will begin to craft your own views on what ‘needs to be done’. Developing your own action plan will help to connect the dots and and allow you to focus on short achievable goals.

Everyone approaches their new appointment differently. Whatever action you take it is most important that the new leader enjoys coming to work each day. My transition week at dar al Marefa Private School was exciting  and immensely interesting. Many people to meet, many things to take in! From any aspect my new appointment is going to be challenging and loaded with learning opportunity. I have no doubt I will enjoy coming to work each day.

Learning About Expat Life

Once I came to the decision to to accept a principalship at an international school I began to read through the various Expat forums. This, to me, was an important leisure time activity. After registering with http://www.expatforum.com/  I began to read all about the escapades of those that have gone before me. I wasn’t only interested in the adventures but more  about the practicalities. As a husband and father it was important for me to develop some insight into relevant family matters like the cost of living (see the Numbeo site or Expatistan site) and issues surrounding moving (or in my case leaving) the family. Various personal blogs, not only about living in Dubai but also other countries, helped garner information.

A key information site for me was Living in Dubai. This site offered a great overview for the naive would be Dubai resident. From accommodation to eating out to purchasing a mobile phone ,this site provided a number of elements one needs to consider when moving. It was from this site that I would then ‘google’ for further information. Another important jewel for understanding life in and moving to Dubai was Expatwoman. While written by women for women, a lot of the information shared still applies to men as well.

One site leads to another which leads to another. Before long you end up with not only a plethora of information but at times, conflicting answers. It is wise to discern the information as many sites offer personal opinions that are immersed in facts.

Probably, for me anyway, the best site I visited frequently was called Definitely Dubai. This site offered everything you need to know about both visiting and living in Dubai. It provide me with a springboard of actions needed to prepare for living permanently abroad.

No doubt there are many more gems out there to assist people in being more informed about moving into an Expat life.