Over the past two years I have had a revolution in my own thinking and practice in order to achieve the best outcomes we can for the kids in our care. I heard some key people speak, such as Dr Abdulla Al Karam of the Knowledge & Human Development Authority here in Dubai, Sir Anthony Seldon and I read a book by Richard Branson. All of which led me to start questioning my current practice and to start looking for another way.
Previously, my thinking was to drive my staff to deliver the best results possible for our kids, my role was to do a lot more managing, while leading where I could. Our mantra was 'hotel level hospitality' and we felt that this was going to make a difference. Yet at the same time I was reading and following educational practice such as that from John Hattie that states that teachers are the most important factor in an educational setting. It took me a while to realize that I needed to give more independence and empowerment to my teachers to allow them to perform at their best. As a school we had always been recognised as having a distributed leadership model, but the reality is distributed leadership can operate within a restrictive framework also.
What we were looking for was something different, something that enables teachers to teach and to step away from the restricting pressures of over bearing timetables, curriculums and lesson plans, while at the same time maintaining the levels that the school had already achieved. What we got was a staff more empowered in their profession, children engaged and owning the learning, which has led to positive movement in assessment levels and happy teachers and kids which meant we no longer needed to worry about 'hotel hospitality'.
To begin with we started small to let teachers know that we were thinking about them, sweets on the reception desk for them, less prescriptive time requirements and targeted programmes being brought into the school to reduce teacher workload. We then began talking to teachers about what they wanted in order to be a better teacher and to be able to express themselves in the classroom.
The first issue that teachers raised were timetables that were too prescriptive and built to follow a curriculum in a pre-determined sequence. When we looked at things from a learning perspective this is not how learning operates and therefore we needed to do something else. The answer to us was obvious pass the responsibility of meeting subject time requirements and when we teach what over to the teacher, rather than allocated through timetables. This gave teachers the space to be teachers, working with their students to best meet their needs.
The other factor that was not working for staff was the delivery of professional development (PD), too many people stuck in a hall listening to someone present something that was generally only relevant to a portion of the room. What we did was pass PD back to teachers and working with their coach they create their own professional pathways and learning. Our responsibility was to ensure that we had a menu of PD available to staff on a weekly basis, normally offering five different learning opportunities that staff can self-select and attend. Staff could also choose to do their own professional learning within this time via blogs etc.
Staff also wanted to have a space within the school that enabled them to relax and unwind and while we had a staffroom this was an under utilised space. We conducted some design thinking with teachers and came up with a new concept for our Staff Lounge. This included smaller more personal spaces, couches rather than chairs, positive quotes shared by staff, a book sharing library, a positive feedback wall for staff to feedback to each other and most importantly cushions. Once this was created staff reacted positively and we have seen a significant uplift in the use of the room.
While all these focuses were happening to target staff welfare, we were also working with the staff to build a learning framework to underpin all of this work, (See previous blog). This has given us a model to structure some of these decisions on and support the empowerment of the learning and teaching process. This has included work with educational consultant Mark Treadwell to develop this model and method of teaching within a concept based curriculum, again developed and purposed to extend and push learning beyond simple learning objectives and into transferable concept frameworks.
This has led the school to a point where I feel that staff are more empowered to direct learning by co-constructing the learning process. As a positive reflection we have only had 3 staff members of our 80 teachers that are looking to leave this year, none of which are moving to a competitor school in the UAE. I see recruitment of teaching staff as a critical element in maintaining our focus. When recruiting I don't see many teachers that are working in the same way and therefore capacity to change and learn new things is a key talent for us. Those with a growth mindset, looking to operate in a new model for learning thrive at RDS and we have been deliberate in taking staff with us in the journey by introducing elements when the need appears and then letting teachers drive the progress. This transparency has allowed those not wanting to move forward and uncomfortable with this level of autonomy and accountability to move on.
Teacher empowerment, welfare and an ever focus on learning and how we develop learning within our learners is the heart of what we do at Royal Dubai School and we are excited about where this journey will take us as educators and our learners as they move forward in the learning journey.