Creating the Outstanding School: Everyone’s Dream

Leadership, Professional Learning, Schools

As a principal focused on improving student learning I was heartened by the recent presentations at the Dubai International Education Conference recently held at Al Ghurair University, Dubai. With the key message that the teacher is the centre of improving student attainment, the various keynote and concurrent presentations offered insight into the effective impact of the role of the “Teacher as researcher.”

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 5.27.23 pm

The teacher as researcher can be distinguished from their colleagues as they attempt to better understand their TEACHing practice and how it impacts upon their students. In researching the relationship between teaching and learning the teacher researcher actively contributes to the conversation of what makes a difference to student learning. This is an evidenced based process and involves reflective inquiry, working in collaboration with other teachers, their students, parents and the community.

Interpreting real time data, analysing the data and them making informed decisions based upon this information is pivotal to improving the school outcomes. The challenge is ensuring that all schools improve. However, as shared by Professor David Lynch (Southern Cross University):

“It is interesting to note that the latest figures released by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (Dubai’s education authority) show that the number of private schools in Dubai will reach 250 by the year 2020 or 16 per year. There are currently 169 private schools in Dubai as of last year, but this number will increase by almost 50% in the next six years to accommodate the projected 50% increase in student population from the current 243,000 level to 366,000 by 2020 or by 24,000 per year. One of the big challenges for the UAE is to prepare or engage enough teachers to meet this demand profile.”

With the rapid increase in the number of schools in Dubai to meet the increasing demand and the KHDA prescribed inspection process identifying what makes an “outstanding school” on what constitutes an outstanding school will continue to create much debate. To help foster the dialogue perhaps our latest publication “Creating the Outstanding School” will help.

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 5.28.35 pm

Learning and Improving Your Leadership


As we begin a new year and having just completed my first term as the principal of an international school, I have, like many leaders, taken time to reflect on my learning. While not outlining the circumstances that lead to the learnings, I offer the following few points for your consideration.

  1. Doing the tough things first. Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Knowing that our energy levels diminish as the day unfolds, it is a good idea to handle tough decisions and tasks early on. Better to address challenges while you are fresh.
  2. Set precise goals and repeatedly remind your staff. A key to achieving success is to ensure all of your team is on the same page. This is as important for the experienced leader continuing in the same school as it is for the new leader beginning a new school.
  3. Don’t respond to emails during the day. A number of colleagues of mine (unconsciously) boast of how busy they are and how often they respond to emails during the working day. While not withstanding the importance of attending to work related communication, it can be a distractor to the scheduled tasks of your day.
  4. Be kind to your staff. All teachers, whether directly or indirectly, seek guidance, affirmation and even correction. Working closely with staff is the instructional leader’s key ingredient for success.
  5. Students are Students. Regardless of where you lead, students have the same traits. They all have a yearning to learn. Taking time to listen to students helps to develop a balance view on school climate.

Each school has its own nuances to address and as the new leader becomes immersed in the culture and philosophy of the school, the greater the contribution he/she can make to the school.

Happy New Year.

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.

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.

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 (

Would love your feedback.

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  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.