Invitation to Director’s Coffee on Wednesday 8:00 AM and 6:30 PM

THANK YOU!

Dear parents,

First of all, I would like to thank so many of you for your supportive emails, texts and drop-ins regarding my appointment as Director for next year.  I have fallen in love with this school in the last three years and am very proud of what we have accomplished.  I have been honoured to be a part of Mr. Torris’ team and have helped plan, build and oversee many of the initiatives that team has put in place.  I am relieved that we will be able to take that work forward, as there are no plans to change course.

To help communication, on Wednesday, Mr. Torris, Mr. Dorn and I will present information about the direction of the school on behalf of the AFEF board.  As communicated in my coffee two weeks ago, the board has three key roles:

  1. Provide fiduciary oversight to ensure the finances of the school are stable and sustainable.
  2. Approve academic proposals brought forth by the Director.
  3. Contribute to, and approve strategic plans brought forth by the Director.

It is not the case that the board will make substantial changes to the school.  As Director, my role will be to lead the school, develop the strategic plans, manage faculty and liaise between the board and the stakeholders.  The board’s job is to hold me accountable for those things.

When we met two weeks ago, I asked for a number of questions from parents to report back to the board.  Those questions will be answered at the meeting.  We will be running a session at 8:00 in the morning in the secondary library and another in the evening at 6:30 PM.

We do hope you will come support the school and we look forward to working with you.

Reflections from a School Visit

Last week, I was in Saudi Arabia evaluating a group of schools.  I have been a school evaluator for the IB since 2010, and am now an evaluator for the Middle States Association of Schools as well.  School accreditation is a rigorous process!  It keeps schools and boards accountable, in this region, 50% of schools do not get accreditation!  The school we inspected was recommended for accreditation.  I am writing this because it’s important parents know that I believe our school – UAS – is doing a much better job in many areas than the school we just accredited.

We have our KHDA inspection and our CIS/MSA/IB accreditation visits coming up in January.  These are hugely important for the school.  KHDA gives annual inspections and in my time here I have seen enormous growth.  My first year here (2015-16) was the first year the KHDA has “Very Good” as a rating that year the school increased in a net total of 17 areas.  Last year, we improved in another 15 areas.

When we get our accreditation in January, the CIS and IB accreditations will be valid for five years, and MSA will be valid for seven.  The school is determined to continue to improve.  We want all our students to achieve their personal best, and we are putting in place the structures to attain that goal.  By putting in an American Programme to run parallel to the IB, we anticipate seeing further student success in both areas.  It is an exciting time to be at UAS!

Community Involvement

I am enormously proud of the school and particularly the students for their increased involvement in community.  Last Wednesday, our Emirati Committee, led by Hind Al-Futtaim did an amazing job running our National Day celebrations.  The students planned, organized, decorated and carried out the event.  The learning they did was phenomenal and if you attended, you would say it was the best National Day the school has ever had.  We look forward to seeing future events being run at UAS.

In addition, our CAS students continue to do amazing things in the community.  Last weekend, 14 students supported the media tent at the Emirates Airlines Rugby 7’s event and this weekend we have seven more taking place at the Dubai International Film Festival.  Volunteering is a huge part of learning and the work the kids are doing has been great.  Ms. Ray has worked tirelessly managing the student reflections and work (each experience needs to be documented!).  Of course, it takes a village and these incredible opportunities wouldn’t be possible without the support of our parents, particularly Ms. Haddad and Ms. Khatib.  If you have any ideas for ways the school can get more involved in the community, we would love to hear them!  Check out the great things our kids are doing at DIFF:

That’s all for me!  Have a great Winter Break and we will see you all on Wednesday!

 

Athletics Awards and High School Principal’s Coffee.

Athletics Awards

Last night we had another wonderful celebration at UAS, our season one athletics assembly!  It’s an event that has really evolved to something special under the leadership of Mr. Trottier and Mr. Carter.  In season one, our UAS athletes took home no less than 11 banners at NESAC!  More impressively, I was at a leadership conference recently, where I met the Director at Kuwait International School.  He commended UAS on the class with which our athletes conduct themselves.  Winning is one thing, but winning with class is another.  I think one of the reasons our teams are so successful is the culture of excellence we are encouraging.  The value of sportsmanship is so critical to success.

If you are following me on Twitter (@obsealey), I was pushing out information on the night under my hashtag #proudprincipal.

High School Principal’s Coffee

Last week I got an opportunity to speak to a lot of parents regarding next year and the future of the school.  I would like to carry on that conversation.  I know that the Al Futtaim Education Foundation are finalizing their plans for next year and parents can expect much more communication soon.  The main topic of the conversation will be on the Moral Education course mandated by the KHDA, but, I will be happy to field any questions on Monday, November 27th at 8:00 AM in the library.  I hope to see you there!

Best,

OB Sealey

High School Principal.

 

Open Gradebook, Reports, Parent/Teacher Interviews, CAS, 10 Minute Plays… Just another week at UAS!

This school moves fast!  Great schools do!  This week is just another week at UAS and here is what’s on…

Interim Reports vs. Open Gradebook.

The school’s official reports are out now, you would have received a link to them on the portal.  In Grades 9 through 11, there are no formal grades on the reports, the reason for this is that it is too early to give a judgement.  On these reports, the most important information is in the feedback.  Each student gets a personalized comment indicating what type of learner they are, a particular learning strength, and, an area to improve.  They also get an “effort” and a “behaviour” grade.  Those are very important!

Grade 12’s have been in their courses for 14 months, for that reason we can give them a grade.

With the implementation of Engrade, our school’s open gradebook, there is less of a need to report.  For that reason, we will have only 3 formal reports per year.  There will be one interim report, an end of semester report and an end of year report.

What is the difference?

The open gradebook gives parents access to their child’s progress.  It contains extremely valuable information about student learning.  It is comprised of formative assessments and summative assessments.  The grades that go on reports are only derived at by summative assessments.  On the other hand, our reports are formalized, legal documents that students use to transfer to other schools, or, to get into university or various summer programmes.

As a parent, you should be aware of two things re: open gradebooks:

1) After an assessment, teachers have a maximum of 10 days to post grades on the open gradebook.  If that time elapses and you don’t see a grade, please reach out to that teacher.  Our teachers work hard but it’s your right to get in touch and ask for an update.

2) Grades that go on reports are only related to summative assessments, using the practice of “BSP” or best-sustained performance.  The way we calculate reports is by tracking the most recent and most consistent summative grades in the gradebook.  When looking at Engrade, you should see a clear correlation between the best sustained performance and the current result.  There should be no surprises in your child’s grades; if you are confused as to how the teacher came to the final conclusion, simply ask at Parent-Teacher Conferences.

The Importance of Formative Assessments.  

Although they don’t “count”, it can be argued formatives are far more important to learning than summatives.  It is very rare that a student performs well on summatives while not attempting formatives.  Also, formative assessments can give great information on habits of learning and effort.  If a student is not doing well on formatives, they are unlikely to do well on summatives.

Key Questions to Ask at Parent Teacher Conferences:

Friendly reminder – the sign-ups for Wed/Thurs Parent-Teacher Conferences closes Tuesday at 9:00 AM!

Good schools focus on one thing and one thing only: LEARNING!  I worry (a lot) about our school because most conversations I have with parents and students (and in many cases, teachers) is about grades.  Grades are reflections of how well students have learned.  Once we stop talking about grades and start talking about learning, something miraculous will happen… grades will go UP!

Here are some key questions to ask your teachers this week:

  • How would you describe my child as a learner?
  • What types of assessments are best suited for my child’s learning style?
  • What degree of choice do you give my child in designing their assessments?
  • Does that apply to both formative and summative?

To be candid, there will be a varying degree of responses to these questions.  Remember, it was just two short years ago where this school had a “rule” where students were not allowed to be assessed if the task didn’t prepare them for the IB.  Please ask these questions anyway.  We are not preparing students for the IB… we are preparing them for life!

Somehow, in the world of getting good grades, we’ve missed that along the way!  But… with the help of some parents, our culture is changing.  UAS is becoming an institution of meaningful, life-long learning.  We are truly committed to creating caring, critical-thinking, responsible global citizens…

If not grades…how, then, does the IB prepare my child for life?

Here are some photos that will explain it better than I ever could…

UAS students, teachers and parents teaming up with Autism Rocks to create a fun day for people with challenges!

20 UAS students applied and 10 got accepted to support Design Week this week!

These pictures are a huge shout out to our CAS coordinator Ms. Emily Ray and amazing parent volunteers, particularly Ms. Ghia Haddad, Ms. Dima Khatib, the Senior Moms and the PSTO.  One of my favorite expressions is “a rising tide raises all ships” and it’s clear the tide of learning is high as can be at UAS.

10 minute plays!

On Thursday, at 2:30 PM, we invite parents after parent-teacher interviews to attend our 10 minute plays put on by our Drama Team in the MPH.  Please come support our students.

Lastly, if you are not already doing so, please follow me on Twitter: @obsealey.

I am starting to push as much of the great work as I can under the hash-tag #proudprincipal.

 

 

 

Open Gradebooks IB Parent Survey, Senior Swag, CAS and Kris Fade!

Well, another week at UAS is in the books, and like every week… what a week it was!

Open Gradebooks!

Last week, we opened up our Gradebooks.  We did this for several reasons:

  1. The grades belong to the student, not the teacher!
  2. Why do parents have to wait until report season to know exactly how their child is performing?
  3. Report Grades should be a cumulative picture of progress, not 4 unrelated grades separated by quarters.
  4. Having 2 formative and 1 summative assessments per quarter is not a reasonable expectation when we consider the number of distractions in a quarter (ie – winter break).

As of last week you will have received an invitation to Engrade.  For advice on how to log in and view your grades, please watch this video!

By now, all teachers should have some work up on the Gradebook.

IB Parent Survey:

This year, we are in our 5 year review of the IB programme.  Once we complete the verification visit in January, we will be authorized to maintain our programme for another 5 years!  Ms. Cummins needs you input!  Please fill in this survey to help her out!

Senior Swag!

The Senior Parents are hoping to raise money for Prom/Grad/Senior Breakfast.  Below are the pictures of their awesome gear.  If you are interested send your order to: seniorsparents@uasdubai.ae

Creativity, Activity and Service!

Our kids are pretty amazing and Ms. Ray, with tremendous support from some of our parents is working very hard to get our kids out in the community and doing great work!

Here are some shots of our kids bringing joy to others at the Kindergarten starters in Garhood and at the Down Syndrome Association of Dubai.

Kris Fade was here!

We had a great event last Sunday, where radio personality Kris Fade came to UAS to celebrate our students and to share an important message about bullying.  It was a lot of fun!  We had a lot of fun!  They gave us three days to plan, so it was a bit of a throw together, but our kids have real talent and showed real character!  Check it out!

 

Have a great week!

 

The Week Ahead

First of all, I’d like to thank all the parents who came to the Grade 8 and 9 Parent information evening on Wednesday night.  The topic was answering questions about what a parallel American Stream (beside the IB) will look like for the class of 2021.  We will have more sessions as the year goes on.  If you missed it, the presentation can be found here.

It’s going to be a busy week this week! 

On Sunday, Kris Fade will be at UAS as part of the 20 schools in 20 days.  All of Middle and High School will be present!  We think it’s going to be an amazing event for our kids.  We wish we could invite parents to be a part of it, but bringing all of Middle and High School into the MPH is going to be a challenge.  Look here for video of this event next week!

PTSO Walk for Breast Cancer – Thursday!

On Thursday morning, Period 1, we are having a UAS walk for breast cancer.  It will be a short, symbolic walk around the campus.  Please dawn your best pink outfit and come join us.  High School will begin our walk at 8:00 AM, from the field.

Google Training!

This weekend, 25 of our teachers undertook Google Certification and 25 more will take it next week.  Being a Google Certified Educator is an impressive feat, and by year’s end, all UAS employees will have that on their CV!  It is improving our workflow and will have a significant impact in the classroom.  I can’t wait to see all the creative things that come out of it!

Dr. Quaglia is here!

Once again, one of our favorite people, Dr. Russell Quaglia is with us this week.  For those of you new to UAS, Dr. Q is a world leader in the field of student voice and student aspirations.  His work at UAS has led to us re-developing the UAS development plan, focussing heavily on engagement.  Please stay tuned to announcements for opportunities to connect with Dr. Q!

Have a great week, UAS!

 

Fixed Links…Inshallah!

I’d like to give a big Thank You to the parents who informed me the links were not working in my previous blog.  I have changed the sharing settings and the links “should” work now.  If they do not, I will have to go and re-create the surveys.   Please send me an email if you still not get in.

Here are the last 2 items from my weekend blog with fixed links…

Open Gradebook

In high school, we are preparing our launch of the open gradebook.  We are targeting having Gradebooks available to parents on October 15th.  There is a lot of important information to pass along regarding this.

All summative assessments on Engrade will have a one-to-seven result on them.  Formative assessments, however, look different for different reasons.  We are using our Tuesday collaborative planning times to see what the impact of standardizing formative assessments would look like.  Please fill in THIS SURVEY to give us your input on whether you want both formative and summative assessments in your Gradebook.

Meeting for Grade 8 and 9 Parents

On Wednesday, October 11th, I will be hosting a meeting to re-inforce the specifics of the implementation of our American Education Steam at UAS and how it will co-exist with our IB program.  The meeting will take place in the library at 6:30 PM and is open to Grade 8 and 9 parents.  If there is significant interest, it will be moved the the MPH.  Please click here to register.

If you can’t meet us on Wednesday, please take 24 minutes to watch the beginning of year assembly below.  Mr. Jackson did a great job editing it!  In the first 24 minutes, there is important information that will be re-communicated on Wednesday night.

This week’s update…we need parent feedback!

Please Read!

Throughout this blog post there will be links to a few surveys for parents to give input.  Please read the entire post and fill in the surveys to help us help you! 

Great Start!

The start to the school year has been great!  Our new teachers have settled in well and the quality of learning in classes looks better than ever.  Over the summer, the Al-Futtaim Educational Foundation (AFEF) invested heavily in the school structure and the impact in the classroom has been huge.  Classrooms and hallways are brighter and the new furniture is much more dynamic.  These things make a big difference in education!

Instructional Coaches

As you know, UAS is committed to growing from within.  We have great practice at UAS and it’s only getting better!  In addition to the infrastructure upgrades, Mr. Torris and AFEF agreed to invest in, and develop, an internal coaching program here at UAS.  Their impact has been significant.  As a learner who is always focused on improvement and growth, I am engaging in a coaching cycle.  I meet with my coach once per week and together we prepare my various meetings.  The meetings are filmed and we go back and watch them to ensure the engagement is high and the pacing is appropriate.  It’s a very interesting process and I look forward to seeing what comes out of it.

Google Education

We are a one-to-one laptop school.  Next year, every student in high school will have a MacBook.  That is changing how we approach education at UAS; modernizing it.  You may be familiar with the “SAMR” model of technological integration.  Below is an image of what that looks like.  Over the next two weekends, most of our teachers will be taking Level 1 or 2 Google Certification.  100% of UAS teachers will be Google Certified at least to Level 1 this year.  In the coming years, it is our ambition to have UAS staff as Google Trainers and Innovators, joining the world-wide connection of high-class educators who redefine practice.

 

Open Gradebook

In high school, we are preparing our launch of the open gradebook.  We are targeting having Gradebooks available to parents on October 15th.  There is a lot of important information to pass along regarding this.

All summative assessments on Engrade will have a one-to-seven result on them.  Formative assessments, however, look different for different reasons.  We are using our Tuesday collaborative planning times to see what the impact of standardizing formative assessments would look like.  Please fill in THIS SURVEY to give us your input on whether you want both formative and summative assessments in your Gradebook.

Meeting for Grade 8 and 9 Parents

On Wednesday, October 11th, I will be hosting a meeting to re-inforce the specifics of the implementation of our American Education Steam at UAS and how it will co-exist with our IB program.  The meeting will take place in the library at 6:30 PM and is open to Grade 8 and 9 parents.  If there is significant interest, it will be moved the the MPH.  Please click here to register.

If you can’t meet us on Wednesday, please take 24 minutes to watch the beginning of year assembly below.  Mr. Jackson did a great job editing it!  In the first 24 minutes, there is important information that will be re-communicated on Wednesday night.

Invitation to High School Back to School Night Tomorrow

Please join us for High School Back to School Night on Sunday, September 24th at 5:45 PM in the MPH.

Back to School Night is one of the best nights of the year and I can’t wait to catch up with all the parents!  As BTSN only happens once per year, I would like to take a minute to remind everyone of the purpose of the evening.

1) Build Community

A school is only as good as it’s teachers and at UAS we have great teachers.  This is your chance to get to know them on a personal level.  This is not a parent-teacher interview.  It’s an opportunity to put a face to a name and to hear about what learning is going to take place this year.  If you take the time to build a personal relationship with your children’s teachers, it will be enormously helpful to you as the year progresses.  Take advantage!

2) Communicate

There are a number of new initiatives we are launching at UAS and I will be presenting many of them during my address to the community which will begin at 6:00 PM.  Please be on time to ensure you get a seat!

3) Catch Up

Some students still have not submitted their Academic Honesty forms, Acceptable Use Policy etc.  We aim to get all this cleared up by tomorrow so we can focus on upcoming issues.

Structure of the Evening:

Back to School Night at UAS is designed to give parents choice.

  • Interested in hearing about the direction of the school?  There will be an opportunity to do that.
  • Interested in seeing some formal presentations from the Curriculum Leaders?  There will be an opportunity to do that.
  • Interested in simply getting to know your teachers in one-to-one conversation?  There will be an opportunity to do that.
  • Interested in getting to know other parents over a coffee?  There will be an opportunity to do that.
  • Miss last Sunday’s Week Without Walls presentation and interested in learning about the new local experiences?  There will be an opportunity to do that.

Here is the plan:

5:30 to 5:55 – Parents arrive.  Coffee and refreshments served in the lobby.

6:00 PM – Formal address from Mr. Sealey.

6:25 PM – Prayer time and beginning of informal conversations.  During this time, all teachers, except those who are praying, will be available to meet parents.

6:45 to 8:00 Formal Presentations: for those interested in a more comprehensive overview from the Curriculum Leaders of each department, please feel free to join these presentations.  During the presentation times, the all other teachers will remain in the MPH to chat with parents.

M02/03 Grade 9&10 presentations M04/05 – Grade 11 and 12 presentations
Arabic & AFL: 6:45 – 6:55 Science: 6:45 – 6:55
English:  7:00 – 7:10 Humanities: 7:00 – 7:10
Math:  7:15 – 7:25 Arabic & AFL: 7:15 – 7:25
Science: 7:30 – 7:40 English 7:30 – 7:40
Humanities:  7:45 – 7:55 Math 7:45 – 7:55

Other Important Information:

We balanced out our Arabic, Math and English classes last week.  If your child was moved, he/she will have a new schedule.  The teacher on that schedule will be your child’s for the remainder of the year.

The only classes left to restructure are Grade 9 Languages. As this is the first year that effectively all students in Grade 9 are taking languages, we have not yet found an appropriate place for all students.  If your child is taking French, please take the time to meet both Mr. Devie and Mme. Merlet, as either of them could be your child’s teacher.  Likewise, please get to know Ms. Hontoria and Ms. Rings if your child is in Grade 9 Spanish.

Finally, once again this is not parent-teacher interview night. If you have something urgent and/or personal to discuss with your childrens’ teachers, please arrange a private discussion later on in the week.

Looking forward to a great night!

Yours,

Ole Sealey

High School Principal.

 

Incredible First Week!

WELCOME BACK, UAS!

First of all, it’s been a month since we have welcomed all our wonderful new faculty to UAS.  I’m sure your children have been raving about the interesting, exciting, innovative and engaging teachers we have hired this year.

If you haven’t popped in, please do  the school feels great!  We have been working really hard and the feedback I have gotten from students is that they are very happy with where we are.

Here is a brief list of all the incredible things we have done in the last 8 school days in High School:

  • Welcomed our New Teaching Staff
  • Conducted first ever IB Boot Camp for new students to IB
  • Conducted first ever EE Workshop for Grade 12
  • Welcomed our new students
  • Had our Welcome Back Assembly (Slide show below)
  • Launched our new Advisory Programme
  • Hosted our Week Without Walls Assembly

If you want to check out the assembly presentation, please click here

_________________________________________________

If you thought THAT was good… Wait until Next Week! 

Sunday September 17th – 7:00 PM – Week Without Walls Parent Information Evening.  Come see what we are offering!

Monday September 18th – 6:00 to 8:00 PM –  Music Students and Parents – Instrument “Zoo”.  An event where music students can roam around and try the various instruments that they will play in this year.

Tuesday September 19th – First Early Release Day – Students to be released at 2:00 and go home.

_____________________________

Important!

Due to Islamic New Year our High School Back to School Night has been moved to Sunday, September 24th from 5:30 to 8:30.

______________________________

What else is on?

Course Changes: Course changes will be accepted up until the end of next week.  After we have a sense of all the changes we will do our annual Schedule Balancing.

Schedule Balancing: Every year, with the very welcome addition of several new students and with many course changes, some classes become unbalanced.  Outside of the Arts and PE, a maximum class size at UAS is 25 students.   Unfortunately, this means some students will have to be moved.  Parents and students affected by the balancing will receive personal letters next Wednesday.

CAT 4 and MAP testing for Grades 9 and 10

Next week we will start our MAP and CAT 4 testing in Grades 9 and 10. We have been looking at this data for the last two years and we are going to be more proactive in using it.  This year, MAP and CAT 4 will be the primary source of data for choosing next year’s courses.  CAT 4 tells us about a student’s aptitude and potential, and MAP tells us how well they are progressing against curriculum standards.  Parents will receive their children’s reports along with our interim reports in November.

That’s it for this week!

I look forward to welcoming everyone to Back to School Night on Sunday, September 24th.

Have a great weekend!

Reflections for the beginning of the year!

Let’s start by looking back!

I’m super excited to welcome the kids back to school tomorrow!  I thought I would take some time to reflect on the work of teachers and look back at some of the best moments I had when I was in the classroom.

When I conducted my M.Ed., I undertook a side project on student perceptions of education.  I followed 5 Australian boys around in their Grade 11 year and interviewed each several times on the purpose of education, and what makes students successful in school.  What I was most surprised by was even at the age of 17, the boys mostly attributed their success to the degree to which they perceived their teachers “liked” them.  We looked at the data and there was a correlation – they did do better in those classes.  What we also discovered, was that the kids put in more work for teachers they believed “liked” them.  They also appeared to respect teachers more who pushed them than who let them coast.  This project was the foundation of educational purpose which is: to help students identify, and achieve, their personal best in education and in life.  That’s still what gets me out of bed every day.

When I returned to the classroom, the results of this qualitative study came with me.  I used it to change my practices.  First of all, I made sure I knew “what”, and more importantly “how” every student thought.  What are their opinions, what are their biases?  I had every student write a full page on whatever they wanted every week for the first month of school.  I read each one thoroughly, giving them feedback on their writing and their ideas.  I did this for a few years as a Middle School Humanities teacher and got great engagement from my kids.  This became the foundation of my teaching practices, and I didn’t spend nearly as much on the content areas as some would have expected me to.  Instead, I focused on the students and on how they thought.  I tried to use as little as I could of the textbooks.  I tried to get them to think conceptually about “what, how and why” and expected them to learn “who, where and when” on their own.

Eventually, I was asked to teach an IB History course.  When I started, I did what I knew instead of what many colleagues and students thought I “should” have been doing – learning my IB curriculum that I had never taught before.  In class, I would facilitate class “fights” but choosing controversial subjects and having kids stand on either side of the room as though in government.  Kids could cross the floor whenever they wanted and someone wasn’t participating I would wait until I heard something I knew they would be passionate about and call them to challenge.  “nice point, Jeff, but I think Amanda would disagree with you”.  Amanda then had to defend her opinion.

Knowing that I didn’t know much about the curriculum, I had to rely on my other strengths.  Having completed an M.Ed. in assessment and curriculum, I knew how to write academically and how to break down assessments.  I taught my kids MLA referencing and in-text citations for the first two weeks of school.  I taught them how to structure long quotations and when it’s best to paraphrase.  I made them learn how to identify flaws in a works-cited page without using the then-emerging technology of cites like “Bib-me”.  When I assigned homework, it was to critique the academic writing of the texts; to find fault in the writing of our books.  The chapters assigned were related to what we were meant to be studying, but the content was simply used because I knew eventually they would have to know it, but the content was not the focus.  The writing was.  I started feeding them past exam questions and getting the kids to do the “where do I stand” activity with content.  I spent weeks going through the technical command terms and teaching them how to identify things like distractors in multiple choice assessments.

As I got more comfortable with the material, we got more into content.  We were clearly behind in terms of content but it was easier than I thought to catch up.  When “real” work started coming in, I already knew how the kids wrote and how they thought.  Most of the time, I’d give comprehensive feedback and kids submitted great work.  If work came in that wasn’t up to a student’s standard, I simply wouldn’t accept it.  I would get half way through reading their work and if it wasn’t well written or didn’t reflect their voice I would simply stop.  There is a “rule” in major IB assessments of only being allowed to give written feedback once, so, I would simply not finish the draft, give it back to the student and tell them I couldn’t accept it.  I’d give a few oral examples of what was wrong and have a conversation.  Were they confused?  Was something else going on?  I’d ask them when they can give me a better, more consistent draft and agree on a new date.  Sometimes I had to repeat this and sometimes I had to accept that the kid was getting more lost and just needed feedback.  Sometimes done was better than perfect, but the students and I both knew we had tried our best.

There is no substitute for experience and eventually (mostly from the kids) I learned the curriculum.  Many of my students would come to me having read some obscure history and ask me what I thought of it.  I would go home, read it, and tell them what I thought.  Often I would use those sources in my lessons, acknowledging the student who brought it to me.  Despite not knowing that much about history, in my last class as a teacher, three of my students went on to attend Ox-Bridge and Ivy League universities in that subject.  I have kept in touch with them all and they have all been so complimentary.  I am honoured to have served them.

Not all students benefitted from my style, or even appreciated it.  Some saw me as a fraud who knew nothing about history as I expected them to learn it and to teach it to me.   Some said I wasn’t “fair”.  Some said I was “too hard a marker”.  Some hated that I wouldn’t accept their work if it wasn’t their best.  Some felt my lessons lacked organization and structure.  Some complained to my principal.  They all had a point.  I owned that I didn’t know all the answers, and I tried to make sure their points were heard.  Whether it be my IBDP courses or my MYP courses, I tried to stay true to my teaching style.  Even with students who didn’t like my methods, I tried to make sure they knew I respected them and I always tried to push them.  I was determined to ensure they attributed their grades as a reflection of their work, and not because they thought I liked or disliked them.

Like most teachers, I have stayed in touch with many of my former students.  Last November, through Linked In, I received this unsolicited message from a former student who was once very much in the camp of students who didn’t care for my methods:

Hello Mr. Sealey,

“I’m not sure if you remember me but I was in one of your classes… about 6 years ago. The other day I was thinking about how the education system could be improved to promote relevant learning and skills that would be valuable in the future. I feel as though there are a lot of faults in the system that could be improved. In my head, I was going through all the teachers I have had in my life and how effective their teaching was. You came to mind as being one of the best teachers in terms of challenging the ideas. I specifically remember a project you had us do about the (2010 Vancouver) Olympics and the problems with (it’s) governance – though I didn’t recognize the significance of the subject at the time. You truly went beyond the regular curriculum to make the course connect with real life problems. I wish teachers in school would do this more as in hindsight, this is helpful in furthering our knowledge and learning how to not accept the norm – although I understand this is difficult when you are given an outline to follow.”

 

Indeed, I remembered her well.  I remember her because at the beginning of that year, she was very critical of my teaching at student-led conferences.  I remember being impressed with her courage as she insisted I wasn’t teaching her “anything”.  You see, I was one of two teachers of that course and my colleague had a powerpoint every lesson and was meticulous through the curriculum.  I remember that meeting because afterward, I tried to be a little more organized, plan my lessons a little more thoroughly, and engage in some more didactic lessons.  I regret not making it a point to tell her that her critique helped and that her points were valid.  Had I built a better relationship, I could have had a bigger impact on her learning and maybe it wouldn’t have been 6 years since I’d last heard how she is doing.  This student reminded me that I had a responsibility to teach the curriculum and because of her I did that, but I always looked for a current event to use and when an opportunity to ditch the textbook came up, I jumped at it.

To get a letter like that, out of the blue, from a student you hadn’t spoken to in almost 7 years was amazing.  From her message, it seems she forgot that as a 14-year-old, she didn’t initially like my methods. At the time, I didn’t always think about my lesson objectives and I wasn’t always organized.  She made me better in those ways, and I am grateful.  You can’t have a connection with every student, but you can respect each and every one.  Giving respect to another person is like giving it to a mirror, it will come right back at you.

I want to thank every teacher for reaching out to young people and helping them achieve the best possible version of themselves.  Sometimes the things you try to do take years before they have an impact.  But the work you do matters!  It matters so much that years from now, some young person will take time out of their day to thank you for doing what you do best.

For the past two weeks, UAS teachers have been building curriculum, writing their syllabi, collaborating, standardizing assessments, marking exam re-takes, organizing their classrooms, planning the new advisory programmes, organizing resources and building trust.  We are doing that for our students. They are the people we serve and tomorrow all that hard work gets a context.

As we begin the year here at UAS.  Let’s really work to get to know how our students think.  Let’s focus on helping them learn.  Let’s listen to our students and help them set goals.  Let’s not accept work that is any less than their best effort.  If we do that, they will never forget us.

Let’s have a great year!