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leader Middle East

How is it truly like to be a school leader in the Middle East

20 April, 2023
Curious about the challenges and opportunities faced by education leaders in the Middle East? Kinderpedia recently supported a webinar hosted by Global Educational Supplies & Solutions - GESS on this very topic. Dr. Helen Wright, International Education advisor and director, Global Thought Leadership, moderated an amazing panel of school leaders from three different cultures in the Middle East.

They shared their practical insights and advice on how to navigate the diverse and rapidly evolving educational landscape of the region. In this blog post, we're going to break down some of the key takeaways from the webinar and provide you with some actionable steps you can take to put this advice into practice.

Leader in the Middle East

Being a school leader in the Middle East is challenging. The Middle East is a very inspirational, innovative and transformational environment, where there is a continuous drive for improvement. The three speakers brought together different perspectives to outline a profile of the leader. 

Kai Vacher Principal, British School Muscat and British School Salalah

”For a lot of our colleagues this is not home territory, pretty much all our teachers aren’t UK or UK trained so when a colleague comes out to join us, the Principal has a great responsibility.”  affirms Kai Vacher  

”It is your pastoral responsibility for your colleagues as well as your students to show support the moment you’ve appointed them or even before that, and make them feel welcome. It is not only about inducting them and introducing them into the school but also into the community.” adds  Kai Vacher 

A leader needs to be supportive, compassionate, and empathetic

The leader interacts with a very diverse community. Each of us has a life beyond the school walls and we need to understand each other's situation, but not forget the main purpose of education and students. Sometimes it's challenging for a leader to balance these two. Genuinely listen to concerns and aspirations, and be responsive, find win-win solutions. 

”We spend a lot of time listening to our students, listening to our colleagues and parents, and trying to put together those multiple perspectives in order to bring really high-quality educational experiences for the children.” points out Kai Vacher  

During the conversation, Kai Vacher adds: ”I think that the leader and leadership team are accountable to the governing body who come from the local community and they and we are very much accountable to our local community and that’s how it should be ideally in a school. You serve a community, we are very accessible to our parents and to our students. I guess that sense of autonomy and serving a very international and diverse community is very enriching for the leader.” 

”If we look at the UK today, the purpose of any school is to pass the Ofsted examinations. If you ask them about their vision, they will say that their purpose is to be outstanding or good in their inspection grading. For young people, education is about exams. And that is sad.” School isn't just about exams and how to pass them, that's a very sad perspective. It's about how we can ensure that our students get to live their lives successfully. With numerous opportunities constantly emerging, leaders can be confused. But if we have a very clear moral purpose for what we’re trying to achieve, that purpose will guide us through anything. 

Leaders should focus on creating systems that are tech-coherent

Another issue brought forward by Kai Vacher was the importance of providing schools with the resources needed for a dynamic future and training teachers and leaders for those resources. 

”Schools are digital ecosystems. There is so much technology in our schools today and I believe we really need to think about how we lead and manage all this technology in a way that is a supportive ecosystem for the growth of our young people and for the growth of our colleagues and our community. I have never known technology to change as rapidly as this year. every month there is something new happening with AI. So, having an ecosystem which can support those rapid changes in a way that positively supports our young people and how we manage that I think is a real challenge but I also think it is a really exciting opportunity. Because I do believe this is going to disrupt and take education into a different and - if we get it right - into a much better place.” - Kai Vacher

Technology is moving fast, there's nothing new in that, but Kai Vacher highlights how important it is for a leader to navigate through so many alternatives and build, select, and adjust the most relevant technologies for a specific context. To build, and facilitate systems that are tech coherent.

Tracy Moxley Executive Principal, Citizens School Dubai 

Citizens School did an extensive survey among parents in Dubai and discovered that creative thinking, mental well-being, confidence and digital literacy are the four things parents really want schools to be working on and to be educating students on. 

”For me, every teacher is a leader. If you are a teacher you’re leading and I think we also want that for our students. We call our teachers mentors - we want to go into that kind of frame of mind and move away from the kind of traditional roles. Teachers are leading education and we also have students who are leaders of learning as well.”
- points out Tracy Moxley

A leader should provide an amazing, very innovative learning environment. Well-being is now an important pilon for education, for both students and teachers. The role of leaders is also to create and sustain in schools the skills needed to take advantage of the opportunities that technology brings today.

”Having a family environment within the school is really important.’’ - Tracy Moxley

School leaders now, all over the world, need to be very agile. Having to do a whole number of things and start predicting what needs to happen, for example, changes in teaching practice, changes in curriculum, in terms of attitudes and trying to prepare students for a future that we’re still learning about, is challenging.

Stay open-minded about technology and AI

Our society is moving fast, transforming and schools should keep up with this movement. ”We are building our school from scratch, we are learning new things and we redesign it as we go.” - adds Tracy Moxley

That is why it is really important for a leader to stay with an open mind, and to have a growth mindset. As an example of best practice, Tracy Moxley talks about how robotics, AI, and metaverse are being used in her school and how specialists built a brand new 3D metaverse for their school, in order to achieve the standards of a digital future. Leaders should stay open to new opportunities and use critical thinking for selecting the best strategies for education, school, children, parents, and the community as a whole.

”There is a gap between where we are as educators, I believe, and capacity building with the team, and where we need to be in order to utilise what’s there now and be able to enhance the students' experiences. We’re in the future already and it is important to bring those virtual worlds out there and make them part of a really authentic and relevant educational experience. it’s not easy and it takes work every day.” Tracy Moxley

Tracy Moxley also mentioned the power of a leadership team. When every teacher is in a position to lead education with confidence and responsibility, decisions become easier to make, together. 

Vanessa Whay Founding Principal, Durham School for Girls, Doha

I think resilience has got to be one of the key things with leadership because the concept of leadership is very glamorous. Leaders tell themselves that they can carry on with everything, but the actual reality of it is that it is only a part of the process, and the leader actually does get a lot of grief. Leadership isn’t always about being the most popular, it is a tough job. Sometimes the leader has to make difficult calls and decide on difficult situations. 

”Our reality is moving so fast that it seems we'll never be fully prepared for what's next.”  - Vanessa Whay

Therefore, a leader should constantly learn and embrace all these new things from innovative perspectives. 

As Vanessa Whay said in the webinar, in her school 98% of the students are Qataris, and this is reflected in the school's culture and communication. Each child and teacher, in all schools around the world, come with their own unique background, and sometimes it can be challenging for the school leader to adjust communication. 

In the end, educational leadership is all about people

Leadership is about building relationships, fostering a culture of trust and collaboration, and creating an environment where everyone can thrive. With the right mindset, tools, and support, these leaders can inspire change, drive innovation, and make a positive impact on the lives of their students. And, by embracing technology as a powerful tool for transformation, education leaders can help create a brighter future for all. From saving time and streamlining communication to aligning goals and making informed decisions, technology has transformed the way education leaders operate. 

With advanced school management systems and digital tools, school teams can focus on meaningful activities that enhance students' learning, while also building trust and fostering a strong sense of community within the school. To date, Kinderpedia is trusted by over 25.000 teachers from 25 countries who use it to organise their daily activities, connect with students and families, and collaborate with colleagues. Kinderpedia reduces 6 to 9 hours a week of teachers’ administrative time, so they can focus their efforts on innovative and valuable projects. So, if you're an education leader looking to drive positive change in your school, consider Kinderpedia as your tech partner.

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