Invitation to High School Principal’s Coffee – Thursday morning (library)

Dear parents,

It’s hard to believe that the end of the year is just around the corner!  It feels like we are flying on an asteroid.  What a ride we’ve been on this year!

Last week, we had our first American curriculum compliance visit from the KHDA.  As you may recall from a previous post, in 2012 only 11 of the 30 “American” schools were accredited with a nationally-recognized American school association.  At UAS, we are proud to be a member of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.  That organization is recognized by the KHDA and so UAS was already in the top 11 schools before this program began.  As of September 2017, all American schools must be compliant with the KHDA regulations set out here.  I strongly urge everyone to read this document!

When I arrived at UAS, much of this work had already begun.  Even before I joined the school, Mr. Torris invited me to contribute to this document, posted on our website, which defines the balance between an IB and American School.  This philosophy meets action in the Academics section of the website, found here.

On Tuesday, our KHDA visit was amazing.  Of the 17 areas, every one was addressed in kind.  We have been working with teachers, counselors and representatives from student government to implement these changes.

IMPORTANT!  – These changes only apply to Grade 9’s!

Here is a list of things we needed to address for the incoming Grade 9’s:

  • When the Class of 2021 students are in Grade 11 and 12, those who are not taking the IB will no longer be sitting in IB classes, the school will create a range of American courses instead.  We are very excited about the possibilities of this!  AP classes!  Photography!  Film!  We can do so much!
  • Slight adjustment in conversions of our GPA’s to reflect KHDA standards.
  • Slight adjustment of our reporting system to include either a letter grade or a percentage.
  • Currently, many of our courses would only qualify as half credits because they are not 120 hours.  In order to achieve the 120 hours now required for a credit, a course needs three, 70 minute periods per week.

Knock-on effect:

The only real change to high school is that we need to move to a 70 minute period.  The day is long as it is, and so we had a difficult decision to make with our Homeroom program.  Next year, instead of having homeroom, students will get an advisory period every Tuesday.  This also means subjects like TOK will be placed entirely inside the timetable and we will not be using Homeroom time to “make up” missed hours.

By not having a Homeroom every day, we have more down time for students.  Students will get an additional 25 minutes of instruction per day, and an additional 35 minutes of breaks for kids.  By having a one hour lunch we will be running clubs and sports during lunch.  It’s exciting to think of the possibilities!

What about the IB?

The IB is not going anywhere (and nor am I)!  UAS is founded on the IB, and I am an IB practitioner.  I will only work in IB schools and UAS will always be an IB school.  This year, we are projecting to have 5 students achieve over 40 points.  Our IB results are very important to the school and we are committed to continually improving them.  Our target is to raise our IB average from 30 points over the last 5 years to 34 in the next 5.

In fact, next year we are going to become more  of an IB school.  Last week Mr. Torris blogged about the excitement of collaborative planning on Tuesdays.

We Want To Hear From YOU!

So… with all this information in mind, I cordially invite parents to attend the High School Principal’s Coffee on Thursday at 8:00 AM in the Secondary Library.

Prior to attending this meeting, you may wish to review the Program of Study.


High School Musical! – Only Two More Shows!



Last night I had the absolute privilege of watching the High School Musical.  I have been to 18 years worth of performances in my career and this was among the best in terms of student organization, energy and effort.  The kids did an incredible job!  There is so much learning associated with a production of this magnitude.  It’s not just memorizing the lines and a few dance moves, there is so much more to it than that. Students must think deeply about the characters, their emotions and the situation they are in.  I was talking to the light crew after the show and they were so eager to share with me what they had gone through in learning all the intricacies of the sound board and light stage.  School plays teach communication, team-work, dedication, improvisation, and most importantly working through mistakes. It was not lost on me that when I looked at the cast, most members were honour students.

The performance goes on tonight and tomorrow night.   Tickets are 35 Dirhams.  Please come along and support the 60 students who have taken part.  Here are some pictures of this incredible event!

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose or Carrots and Sticks?

I’ve been watching a lot of TED talks lately and a few things happened this week which reminded me of one of the first TED talks I’d ever seen.  Delivered by Daniel Pink, the topic is on intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.  I suggest you take 20 minutes to watch it, it’s quite enlightening.

You may be wondering what the events are?  One is a conversation I had this week with our Economics teacher, Mr. Haag.  Perhaps unbeknownst to some of his students, Mr. Haag is doing an incredible job creating an economy of grades in his classroom.  His assessment tasks are all unique – students do not have to do the same work, they do not have to come from the same sources and the student do not get all the same material. Students grade the work themselves and that grade is standardized by the teacher.  If students believe a written piece of work is worth a 7, the must defend it publically.  Initially, many students disliked this approach, dismissing getting a “7” as an impossible task.  They would submit work but since they couldn’t defend its quality, the top grade could not be achieved.

Granted, some students have still not fully embraced this approach, but in a meeting we had today, Mr. Haag took great pride sharing the story of 2 students who have.  After choosing the most challenging task, working relentlessly through the details and meticulously drafting a written task, two students chose to defend their work for the top grade.  They outlined their arguments, they communicated their thinking, and, they earned the 7.

This really shouldn’t be revolutionary.  Often times I hear students talking about “getting” a 7.  I chuckled the other day after two students had gotten tests back, they were in the hall and one exasperated girl said “…just give me the 7!”.  It’s absolutely fascinating to me that we still think of marks as things that are given. They are not carrots (and sticks).  Grades are earned, and if one does not know what a 7 “is”, cannot describe what it “looks like”, nor defend the quality of their work, then it simply cannot be of superior quality work.

What is interesting about this is that it is the exact opposite what most schools do.  I often hear concerns that one teacher is ahead of another or that students are doing different things in so-and-so’s class.  That’s good!  Giving students choices on the types of projects they do promotes autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Conversely, if students all do the same work and are only motivated in a grade or GPA that they can neither describe nor defend, they will suffer the same fate as those in the candle experiment from the video; they will do worse than their peers.  If students are truly interested in achieving their personal best they should strive to take the harder routes, not the easier ones.  They should think deeply and meaningfully about the projects they undertake and they should be efficacious in the work they produce.

image taken from

The other event is course selection.  These lessons are of critical importance to remember as students make important decisions about what they intend to study.  Time and time again I have seen people try and take courses that will get them the “best GPA”.  Most times, it doesn’t work.  Students should take the courses they are going to put the most into, not the ones they think will be the easiest.

On April 20th, students will be getting their reports and the week after is parent-teacher-student conferences.  Please bring your children to the conferences and have them defend their work.  If your children do not attend, consider asking questions of intrinsic motivations instead of ones about extrinsic rewards.  For example, rather than asking “how can my child go from a 5 to a 6”, consider something like “what types of tasks do you think my child is best at”.  I’m sure you will find the conversations more rewarding as well.

We look forward to welcoming you all on April 26th and 27th.

Another Quarter Down… Time to Celebrate!

I can’t believe it is already the end of Quarter 3!  Where has the time gone? Quarter 3 was just as action packed as Quarter 2, and there has been much learning!  One of my favourite things we do at UAS is Week Without Walls.  Although all the trips are important, it is really the Service Learning trips that have had the greatest impact on our students.  Please take 4 minutes to watch this video:

We have extraordinary kids at UAS and the Week Without Walls is an excellent opportunity for our students to truly live the Mission of our school.  We have a lot of work to do with the home portion of the Week Without Walls experience; and although nothing will be able to match the bonding, learning and importance of our overseas trip we are committed to developing Week Without Walls to ensure all students get the opportunity to explore ways to become caring, critical thinking, responsible global citizens.

Tomorrow at 2:00 the High School will be conducting our second student celebration of the year in the MPH.  The first Assembly was great and many of our students are eager for the next one.  We hope that this assembly will be bigger and  better than the first, which, if you missed it can be recapped here.

I would like to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday.  The fourth quarter is sure to have many more great memories and we are excited for all the important learning our students are going to do.


International Day – Wednesday!

Come Join International Day on Wednesday!

On March 15th, UAS will be celebrating International Day.  The PTSO along with students and teachers throughout the school have been working tirelessly to prepare for what will truly be a day to remember! The Elementary, Middle and High School will each visit the festival throughout the day.  High School students are encouraged to wear the colors of their flag or their own national dress.  The High School will run a shortened day schedule whereby all classes finish before our regularly scheduled lunch break.  At 1:20, students will be dismissed to the International Day festival.  They should bring spending cash for the food trucks which will be selling items for lunch.  Students will need to buy vouchers from the PTSO booth in order to pay for food at the vendors’ trucks.  

Starting at 2:00, performances will take place on stage by students across all three school divisions.  These performances will wrap up around 3:00 and students who ride the bus, and are not staying for the remainder of the day, should prepare for their ride home.  Buses will run at the regularly scheduled time of 3:25.  The evening performances will begin at 3:30 and the International Day festival will end at 7:00 PM.  The International Day celebration will be a great event for the entire UAS community.  We do hope to share the fun and enjoy the festivities with you, so see you there! 

As a preview to all the fun, check out this video from International Day 2015!  This year is sure to be bigger and better.  We hope you will join us!

A Week in the Life of a Busy High School!

March 5th, 2017.

It’s a real shame that the KHDA inspection didn’t happen last week. If it had, we would have been able to showcase so much of what we are proud of.  Here is what we did last week:


Drop Everything and Read.  As part of our Literacy Month, the whole school stopped on Sunday to have 25 minutes of quiet reading time.  Our Literacy initiatives are paying off.  Our MAP tests show that our kids are doing an exceptional job reading.  Moreover, last night we got our PISA results from 2015.  If UAS were a country, we would be number one in the world in reading!  That is a fabulous result.

Blood Drive.  In the spirit of giving, UAS ran it’s annual Blood Drive this week.  Those who were old enough to participate did so.  We had 63 people donate over 100 litres of blood!

MONDAY: PSAT testing.

Our PSATs are done and based on our results last year, we have much to continue to be proud of!  In our Grade 10 cohort from last year, we had 3 students in the 99th percentile!  We’re hoping to top that this year!

TUESDAY: Athletics Banquet

On Tuesday we celebrated our season 2 athletes.  The turn-out was amazing!  What impressed me the most was the quality of speeches our students wrote.  Our kids are amazing speakers and we will continue to put them on stage where they belong!  Huge kudos to Mr. Trottier and Mr. Carter for developing such a heart-felt celebration of student achievement.

NESAC Boys Basketball Championship Celebration – 2017 Universal American School

WEDNESDAY: Week Without Walls Reflection Meeting

Last week we sat down and talked as a leadership team about one of the things we are the most proud of: our external Week Without Walls Trips, and, one of the things we recognize needs improvement: our Week Without Walls here.  Lots of great ideas came to the table.  As it stands, the overseas trips are life-changing experiences for kids.  They do meaningful work and learn the value of altruism.  So much more can be done here.  We are looking to improve engagement in our work placement programme and  raise expectations on a local programme driven by curriculum.  We welcome any feedback you may have.

THURSDAY: Cap & Gown

The class of 2017 met early in the library on Thursday to try on their Grad Caps and Gowns.  With Graduation just 2 months away, the energy in the room was very exciting!  The senior parade took the grads on a stroll down memory lane, where some of them got to walk the halls of the Elementary wing – where they attended school 11 years ago!  After that, we met on the field for our Group Photo. The students looked amazing and we were so proud to be a part of their special day.  Huge thanks to the Senior Moms for their support of this event!

Every week at UAS is action-packed.  I can’t wait to share it with the DSIB inspectors this week!

Have a great week, UAS!

A Preview of Sunday’s Meetings for Grade 8 and 10 Parents.

I have a confession to make: I love the KHDA!  Too often schools scapegoat our regulatory body for holding us accountable to our stakeholders. I get why we do that… it’s easy. It’s easy to blame the KHDA for “making us” make changes. Change is difficult, change is scary, but change is also the only constant in our world.

Dubai is a forward thinking place.  It is ambitious and expanding. Change is a constant here. The population of the entire UAE was 300000 in 1971 and in 2012, we eclipsed 2 million in Dubai alone. That means big change, and the KHDA both represents and pursues this same pace of change in education. After all, we are not going to prepare students for the world of 2028 by engaging in educational practices from 1928. Yet, that is what all schools do to some extent. In fact, many practices from 1998 or 2008 are currently outdated, this is why the KHDA emplores each school to take on practices of innovation. Some people scoff at the fact that there is no formula for innovation. Many schools and educators I have met simply want to be told “what to do” in terms of innovation. But if there was a formula, it wouldn’t qualify as being innovative, would it? By striving for innovation, schools can truly prepare students for the challenges of tomorrow highlighted in the video above.

The other thing the KHDA does is hold us all accountable.  They set standards for education and inspect schools to ensure that we are providing the best quality education we can for young people. This is a remarkable thing – regulation in a free market economy.

When I arrived in Dubai over 70% of American Schools were not accredited. So, the KHDA decided to do something about it. What they did was work with an official American accreditation agency and draft THIS POLICY (I highly recommend that you read it) to ensure that all American schools in Dubai provide a standardized level of service. In spite of recent events in the US, I’m glad to know that someone still thinks being “American” should still stand for something!

UAS is, was, and always will be an accredited American and IB school. We have a great program and we are continuing to develop structures that keep us up to date with the best American and International practices.  In the 18 months that I have been here, we have instituted the MAP assessments to triangulate data, ensuring the grades UAS gives are commensurate with other American and IB schools. Under the impressive leadership of Ms. Gibson, our teams have restructured the curricula in Grades 9 and 10, aligning them to American Standards. We continue to pursue best practices as an American and IB school.

The KHDA policy above is going to mean we have to restructure things a little for our incoming Grade 9’s to be compliant. The changes are fairly minor.  For instance, all students will take PE in Grade 9 and 10.  In other words, we will no longer insist that our Muslim community must choose between PE and Languages. Were we to continue that practice, any student who chose Languages would not be eligible for their American High School Diploma. We have built a structure where all students will be able to take both PE and Languages in addition to meeting the requirements of Islamic Studies.  This is a good thing. It is essential to communicate that for our existing Grade 9 to 12 students, no changes apply, and the KHDA has informed us it will recognize our current structures for those grades.

On Sunday at 6:00 PM in the library, we invite parents of students in Grade 8 to come ask questions about high school.  This will be the first of a series of transitional meetings with parents.  At the same time Mr. Coppes and Ms. Cummins will run an introduction to the IB for Grade 10 parents in room 2200.  Outside of a potential additional offering (Sport and Nutrition), there are no changes planned for the IB programme. 

The objectives of both meetings are as follows:

  1. Communicate – We have some adjustments to make in our structure and our practice. We understand that you want to know about them.
  2. Listen – We asked for your input on the Grade 8 RSVP & Grade 10 RSVP and we will build answers to your questions into our presentations.  We also want to engage in face-to-face dialogue and showcase our work.
  3. Build Relationships – My role as Principal is to oversee the learning of your children in every aspect of their for the next 4 years.  That is challenging work and I am truly honoured and privileged to do it.  I want to learn more about the parents of these young people that drive me to work hard for them each and every day. My team shares this goal.
  4. Build Trust – We understand that your children are the most important things in your lives.  Their education is important to you, and, to us.  We have the same goals, and you need to know that we know what we are doing.  Between myself, Mr. Coppes and Ms. Cummins we have over 40 years experience in education, 30 years of IB experience, 25 years in American schools and (thanks to Ms. Cummins) 11 years at UAS. We will be the people that steer the high school at UAS in the coming years, so it’s imperative that we work with stakeholders to help us improve the quality of service provided.

We very much look forward to seeing you on Sunday evening!

OB Sealey

High School Principal



Sports, Spirit and Communication re: Track and Field Day

This week has had some amazing moments on the sports fields.  Our Soccer teams went to the NEASC tournament in Cyprus where they acquitted themselves beautifully!  UAS won many of it’s games, but more importantly the school spirit was on full display.  Our students won the sportsmanship awards as well as many spirit awards at the tournament.  Sports are a great way to showcase a school and I was so proud to receive a Whatsapp video from Ms. Gibson showing our Varsity boys cheering loudly and proudly for our JV Girls.  UAS has a strong sense of community and it was ever present in Cyprus last weekend.  If you want to learn more, please go to the UAS Athletics Blog.

On Sunday I had the honour of watching the Varsity Boys basketball team compete against ASD.  Despite being down 12 points just before half-time, the Scorpions battled back on strong team defense, chipped away at the lead and hit a key basket to take the first lead of the game with less than a minute remaining.  ASD responded with a buzzer-beating 2 pointer, sending the game to the first of two overtimes.  Our Scorpions out-hustled and out worked their opponents all game, but eventually lost in double overtime.  It was a proud moment for this former basketball coach.  .
This Thursday is Track and Field Day for Grades 6 to 10.  There will be no classes on that day.  Grade 11 students are to come in for an introduction to the Extended Essay and Grade 12 students are to come in to complete CAS and catch up on missed or upcoming deadlines under supervision.  This has been communicated with the students in Homeroom.

Track and Field Day is an incredibly important part of our curriculum and it makes the most sense to hold in on a Thursday.  This year there have been many Thursday disruptions and tomorrow (Wednesday) we will be running Thursday’s schedule to try to minimize the amount of missed classes.  We have never done this before, so we are curious to see how it is going to transpire. We are curious to see how our attendance system will respond.  We appreciate any feedback you may have.

After Track and Field Day, UAS will be holding it’s first “Seniors” Night for Varsity Athletes.  We hope all parents of the Varsity teams can come support the UAS basketball teams as the seniors are celebrated in the last home game of their careers.  Great things are learned on the sports courts – communication, team-work, dealing with frustration, determination, grit, hustle, hard work… the list can go on and on.  Our athletes deserve a proper send 0ff and I hope many of our students, parents and teachers will join me in celebrating with the seniors on their last home game.

Please come join us!

Grade 8 and 10 Parents – THIS RSVP SHOULD WORK!

Hi folks!

Ah the challenges of the digital age!  sigh.

Here’s a lesson for anyone using Google Forms.  If you send a link in an email, you can use the setting “anyone with the link can access”.  If you use a blog, it must be “anyone on the web can access”.  Learned something new today!

Please forgive the confusion.  It’s not just an RSVP, we are more interested in finding out what YOU want to know about.  Please try again below!  If THIS doesn’t work, please send me an email.  To date we have 5 parents coming for Grade 8 and 6 for Grade 10.

RSVP for Grade 8 Parents

RSVP for Grade 10 Parents

RSVP for Grade 8 and Grade 10 Information Evenings

Dear Parent(s) of the Classes of 2019 and 2021,

On Thursday we sent the message below to parents in Grade 8 and Grade 10.  We are trying to get a sense of numbers to ensure that the rooms allocated meet the needs of the groups.  Currently we have Grade 8 scheduled for the Secondary Library and Grade 10’s scheduled for room 2200.

We ask that you RSVP to the event, and, please list out any specific questions or concerns you have so that our team might ensure the evening effectively meets your expectations.

RSVP for Grade 8 Parents

RSVP for Grade 10 Parents

Note: If you are struggling to access the RSVP, please erase your “cache” memory and restart your computer.

Reminder of the event:

We would like to invite parents of current Grade 10 students to our “Welcome to the IB Diploma Programme” evening on February 5th at 18:00 in room 2200. In addition, we would like to invite the parents of current Grade 8 students to our “Welcome to High School” evening at the same time in the Secondary Library.

The Grade 10 event will cover the following topics:

Our Grade 11’s will continue to pursue the IB Diploma Programme or a partial Diploma.

An introduction to the IB Diploma Programme
Core Requirements of the IB DP Programme: Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge, CAS
Requirements for Full Diploma Candidates
IB courses offered at UAS for the Class of 2019

The Grade 8 event will cover the following topics:

New Regulations for American Schools in Dubai

An introduction to the new structure for American Schools.
How UAS will ensure all students qualify for an American Diploma.
How UAS will ensure all students get the pre-requisites to enter the IB Diploma Programme.
An opportunity to discuss hopes and concerns… we want your feedback!
We look forward to seeing you on February 5th.

Yours sincerely,

OB Sealey

High School Principal

Tracey Cummins

IB Coordinator