Great Kids Doing Great Things for a Great School!

Wow!  just… WOW!

We have amazing students at UAS!  In the past week I have been blown away by their desire to make their school a better place to learn.  Let’s start off with some recognition.  The IB is a programme that is largely misunderstood; many people believe it is only about hard-work or good grades.  That’s part of it, but it’s only a small part of it.  The IB is truly about applying knowledge to make the world a better and more peaceful place.  It is about challenging yourself to become the best possible version of who you already are, and, giving of yourself for the benefit of others.  This is the true spirit of the IB.

With that in mind, Ms. Cummins has initiated the IB students of the month – an an initiative where we recognize the students who truly embody these values.

September

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Majid Al Kaylani (grade 11) is a great example of how the IB learner profile can be observed in IB students. He is described by his teachers as knowledgeable, reflective and open-minded. He has received commendations from his Chemistry, History, English and Math teachers. His CAS coordinator describes him as excited by learning and the opportunities of the IB program. Majid recently organized a debating ring as part of his CAS portfolio, encouraging his peers to be active inquirers on topics such as “The morality of the minimum-wage lifestyle”, “The cult of celebrity” and “The underlying power of social media”.

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 Yousef Baker (grade 12) is a dedicated student and works hard to push himself in all that he does. He embodies qualities such as balanced, reflective and principled. His teachers describe him as an outstanding student and forward thinking. Yousef is praised for supportive camaraderie towards his peers and his consistent academic efforts. Yousef received commendations from his Arabic, English, Business, Physics, Chemistry and Math teachers.

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Nayla Hamze (grade 12) pushes the boundaries in her Theatre program in everything she does and constantly seeks feedback to improve the quality of her work. She has set the bar very high with the first draft of her Extended Essay. Her passion for IB Theatre drummed up excitement among her peers for the IB Theatre Thailand trip helping make the trip a huge success. Nayla is a great communicator seen frequently helping her peers stay on track, creating a WhatsApp group to remind them of their due dates.

October

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Hind Al Futtaim is passionate about developing a stronger sense of identity among our Emirati students.  This is what it means to be principled. The initiatives she has undertaken include: petitioning for Emirati students to be allowed to wear local dress – something that the school absolutely embraces.  Taking responsibility for Flag Day (Thursday, November 3rd) – a national day to celebrate the official unveiling of the UAE flag in 1971.  Hind wants everyone to understand that the four colours of the flag have meaning.  Red is for bravery, green is for optimism, white is for honesty and black is for strength of mind.  Hind will be taking her passion further, developing the Emirati student’s association who will be supporting our National Day celebrations next month.

Tia Mashini and Larissa Farhat embodied risk taking at our recent IB recital.  Having never performed solo in front of an audience, Tia and Larissa did an amazing job of showcasing their talent! Public performance is the number one fear among people and although all students did an outstanding job, the school wants to recognize the efforts of Tia and Larissa.  

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Other Students in need of recognition: Student Government

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Last Thursday, our fabulous Student Government reps hosted their second Movie Night – showing the Tim Burton classic The Nightmare Before Christmas.  Today, SG is hosting the school’s annual Haunted House in the MPH.  Both events are amazingly well thought out.  We invite all parents to come to the next Movie night, it’s truly a wonderful experience that truly shows how caring our students are!

What’s on this month?

  • Friday, November 4th – First Annual UAS Gala!
  • Saturday, November 5th – SAT testing
  • Wednesday, November 9th – Grade 10 Geography Field Trip.
  • Thursday, November 10th – Professional Development Day (no students)
  • Tuesday/Wednesday November 15&16 – HS Photo Days (please help by making sure your children are in uniform!)
  • Thursday, November 17th – Q1 Report Cards go home!
  • Wednesday, November 23rd (half day) Thursday, November 24th – Parent-Teacher Conferences
  • Wednesday, November 30th – National Day Celebrations!

What is the Purpose of Assessment in Education?

Two weeks ago, in my blog about Quantitative and Qualitative data, I included a paragraph about how Sir Ken Robinson’s seminal RSA animate changed my career.  If you didn’t take the opportunity then, please take 11 minutes to watch his video now, as it raises some essential questions about the purpose of education in a contemporary world.  Sir Ken followed up this talk by writing an excellent book entitled The Element.

The Element is a book about the importance of finding one’s passion; it is a series of case-studies about people who have brought exceptional value to the world in ways that are not necessarily products of their education.  The book discusses artists, actors, musicians, athletes, business moguls and math geniuses. Being in one’s “element” is the place where they are the most alive.  It is the place where aptitude meets interest and it’s where people can truly perform at their Personal Best.

My passion is education.  It is derived from two opposing motivators that stem from my own education: the parts I connected with and those I didn’t.  I connected with sports and my coaches, and, with the idea of being a “Royal” (my high school’s version of our “Scorpions”).  I connected with my peers and some of my teachers.  I connected with some of the academic curriculum, most notably in the Humanities.  Those things moulded my thinking and motivated me to be a better educator.

I am equally motivated to challenge things I didn’t connect with, in the hopes of making education better for young people. There are practices from my education which carry on today that simply don’t make sense.  The one that makes the least sense to me is why we continue to use assessment methods that are 200 years old.

Young boys attend class at the Haut de la Garenne childrens home, then known as the Jersey Home for Boys in this file photo believed to date from 1905-1910. Police are now, February 25 2008, performing a grim search at the home after the remains of a childs body were found under several inches of concrete. It is believed that abuse at the home may have been rife in the period from 1940 -1986.

Students writing exams in 1900’s

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students writing exams today.

I was good at writing tests but I can say in all honesty I never connected with a test.  I don’t remember anything I ever wrote on a test and I have never been tested without access to collaborators or resources in my professional life.  What, exactly, is achieved by putting 450 students (the size of my graduating class) in a room together and asking them to write down everything they learned over the course of a year without discussing it with anybody?  I can understand that in 1994 there was a need to retain a certain body of knowledge in one’s mind.  But in a modern world where students have access to every document recorded in history on a device that fits in one’s pocket, do they still serve a purpose? The reality is, our students will never be in a work scenario where they don’t collaborate or have access to the internet. Isn’t it time we modernized assessment practices to prepare students for this?

When most people consider the purpose of an education, a common answer is “to get a job”.  This is peculiar, as in most cases, the jobs we are preparing our students for probably don’t exist yet.  And for jobs that do exist such as doctors, lawyers and businesspeople, those professions do, and will always, operate collaboratively and with open access to resources.

Grades and traditional summative assessments are extrinsic motivators, which, in the long run, tend to decrease most student’s motivation and love of learning. They tend to isolate students and take them away from their “element”.  As Mr. Robinson notes in his talk – there are many brilliant students who think that they’re not.  I think that’s a direct result of the over-emphasis on traditional summative assessments that marginalize different types of learners.

While summative assessments will remain a part of education for the foreseeable future, there is change afoot.  For example, last week I watched a brilliant lesson in Mr. Haag’s TOK class in which he used “Kahoots” to engage in a formative assessment.

What Mr. Haag has done here is powerful.  He has created an engaging activity that every student is tuned in to.  Note how quiet the room gets when the question comes up.  The students are focused and they are learning.  In addition, Mr. Haag is able to understand what the class knows as a whole, which he can then use to inform his planning for the next lesson.  Kahoots also a great use of technology.  The students love being able to use their phones as a learning tool!

Formative assessments like these should be more common place at UAS.  Too often, I see schools treating formative assessments like “mock” summative assessments. They use pen-and-paper quizzes or drafts of essays as formatives.  These are just as time consuming and uninspiring as traditional tests and they serve the same extrinsic ends.  As we continue along our journey to being an outstanding school where every student can achieve their personal best, we hope to take away the emphasis on grades and put the focus of assessment where it should be: on the learning. By doing so, we will be better equipping our students to meet the challenges of the future… together.

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Housekeeping items:

  • This week: CIS accreditation pre-visit
  • Monday, October 24th 6:00 PM – Director’s Forum
  • Tuesday, October 25th – 1:20 PM – US University’s mini-fair (HS Library)
  • Wednesday, October 26th – 2:00 PM – Steven Ritz presentation
  • Thursday, October 27th – Dress Down Day

 

 

College Information Evening and a Short Week

 

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image taken from www.syngergyquantumacademy.org

On behalf of UAS I would like to extend a warm invitation to all parents this evening to attend the College information evening.  Though specifically targeted at our Senior parents, the evening will have important information that can be applied to all high school students.  The evening will take place at 5:30 in the MPH.  I attended the event last year and found it very informative.

I would like to thank the parents who attended last week’s coffee morning on student stress.  Mr. Coppes shared an important message on the importance of embracing stress.  He did an impressive job of sharing a resource with us on the difference between managing and embracing stress.  If you were unable to attend, please take some time to watch this TED talk… it really changed my mindset!

One of the interesting things in this talk is the value of giving and how that impacts people positively.  Our Mission statement challenges us to create caring, critical thinking, responsible global citizens.  Last weekend we had a workshop on developing international-mindedness in our school.  As we engage in a curricular review, we will be looking for ways to increase this mindset in our school.

Part of international mindedness and an important component of the National Agenda is environmental responsibility.  UAS is proud to invite Mr. Stephen Ritz to speak to our students next week.  Mr. Ritz is an educator from the Bronx, New York, who made a significant impact on his community.  You can view his TED talk here.

Please feel free to join us on Wednesday, October 26th at 2:00 PM in the MPH.

Have a wonderful long weekend!

Progress Reports Go Live at 4:00 PM Today

Dear Parents,

Our teachers have spent the last week writing, proofing and editing our Progress Reports, which will be accessible after 4:00 today on the Portal.

Progress reports do not contain grades or marks.  Rather, they give important information on how your child is settling in.  The most important information is the Effort and Behaviour marks.  To help you read them, please understand that:

O is Outstanding

G is Good

S is Satisfactory

N is Needs Improvement

U is Unsatisfactory

In addition, each teacher has written a comment that should support why they have judged the effort and behaviour as they have.  The comments should have a recommendation for improvement.  These reports are important and a great deal of energy has gone into ensuring that they are of the highest quality.  Each report has been proofed three times and teachers were upskilled on the expectations for reports.  If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the teacher directly.

Important – 

Parents who have not been able to sign the KHDA Mandated Parent-School Contract will not be able to access Progress Reports.  Please come in to the registrar’s office as soon as you can so that we can reconcile this issue and ensure you have access to your child’s Progress Report.  We sincerely apologize for this inconvenience and look forward to helping you get the contract signed.

Thank you and have a wonderful weekend.

Yours,

OB Sealey

High School Principal

 

Quantitative and Qualitative Data on How Well UAS High School is Doing.

When I was doing my Master’s Degree in education, I learned about the difference between quantitative and qualitative data.  Quantitative data is numbers-driven.  The value of this type of data is that it can help you identify trends over time, it can be graphed, and, it can help spot problems.  It is statistical in nature and tends to be quite reliable.  However, it doesn’t factor in emotion, cause, or strategies for interventions or improvements.  A former colleague of mine who grew up on a farm would often say of quantitative data “weighing the cow gives you important information, but it doesn’t tell you much about what to feed it”.

Qualitative data is much better at telling a story.  It can give you a very unique perspective of “why” something is happening and more implicitly lends itself to solutions.  It’s about peoples’ stories. While it is generally conceded that there is more room for bias in qualitative data and it’s difficult to ensure reliability, there is massive value in understanding things in detail.

One of my professors referred to these two data types as “eagle” perspectives and “mole” perspectives.  An eagle soars high above the landscape and can view things from afar, but unless it comes down to the ground there isn’t much that can be done about what it is seeing.  A mole digs these deep and intricate tunnels and gets up close to the fibres and roots it is burrowing through, but can’t see much more than a few feet in front of it.  But it can see, clearly, what is right in front of it and is much better at understanding the reality of the immediate environment and can therefore change it.

In his extremely powerful TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson challenged the value of standardized tests, saying that they are creating an “anaesthetic” system of education.  I believe an over-emphasis on quantitative data can lead to anaesthetic education.  Qualitative data, can give a much more “aesthetic” view, but is challenging to systematize.  Therefore, we need to consider both types of data to make progress.

So, here are two data points I’d like to share:

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Last year, I came to this wonderful school and I was thrilled to be here.  However, I quickly noticed that small problems were having big implications.  Specifically, the school had an attendance issue and low-level behaviour problems were not being effectively addressed.  I believed that this was resulting in less-than-ideal learning.

I began to generate data on the number of absences, tardies and discipline issues I was dealing with. I was determined to follow up on them but I knew that these issues could not be solved by one person alone.  I began to reach out to colleagues to construct ideas about why these minor problems existed. From those conversations, teams evolved.  With the support of Ms. Sebban and Ms. Bellino, we realized there were a number of talented, eager teachers who wanted to get leadership experience. We created the Grade Level Coordinator role whose mandate is to help tackle low level disruptions and hold students accountable for the three values we have tried to instill: Respect, Punctuality and Uniform.  Then I hired an exceptional Assistant Principal to manage the GLCs.  The data clearly shows that Mr. Coppes and his team are doing an exceptional job.  I’m proud of this data, but must emphasize that to be a truly exceptional school, the numbers are still too high.  I have no doubt that under Mr. Coppes’ leadership these numbers will continue to drop.

Interestingly, our qualitative data is also improving.  As we get deeper and deeper into student voice, we are seeing happier students in the hallways.  I returned from a weekend of Professional Development to find this display in the school.

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This is the perfect example of student voice.  Our Student Government Vice-President, Majed A., has taken it upon himself to promote monthly movie nights to engage our students.  The first event was great fun, but was not well attended.  Many students would have given up, but Majed and his team have come back stronger.  They developed a professional-looking sign completely of their own design.

As a former history teacher, I like this type of primary resource; it tells a story.  It is a form of qualitative data that shows our students are ready to be relentless in their pursuit of their passions.  It shows that they will take initiative to be caring, critical thinking global citizens.  It shows that our students’ determination to do the right things are not just showing up on a spreadsheet, they are on the very walls of our school.  For over a month I have been writing about the positive “feeling” around the school.  We now have important evidence to support that what we are doing is working.

Data matters.  In the coming weeks, we will re-distribute the Student Voice survey given out by Dr. Qualia and his QISA team.  We will be analysing out MAP and CAT 4 data to monitor student progress.  I can’t wait to get my hands on more information about how well we are meeting the needs of our students hearts and minds and develop programs to help them achieve their personal best.

 

 

The Value of “Walking” in Leadership… Reflections from Dinner With One of My Heroes.

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image taken from pinterest.com

Last Tuesday night, I had the privilege of meeting one of my heroes, a legendary high school principal named Eric Shenninger.  Most principals blog and use Twitter, but unlike most principals, Eric was recognized by Time Magazine as one of the top 140 people to follow in 2014.  The reason? Eric took an under-achieving high school and turned it to one of the best performing schools in the state of New Jersey in just six years. Most of the credit for his success is linked to the way he transformed his school through the application of technology in the classroom (a clear passion of his).  It didn’t come up in our conversation, but I believe after meeting him that technology in the classroom was simply the tool Eric used to create a ground-swell around his school.  As the conversation went on, it became very clear that it was a conversation about leadership, not technology.

I have been one of Eric’s 107000 Twitter followers since 2010, and never did I imagine that I would be sitting down to dinner with him in Dubai six years later.  Although we discussed a range of topics I walked away from our conversation thinking a lot about… walking:

Walk the school.  Mr. Shenninger was adamant that lesson observation from administrators is essential.  I agree.  It’s important for a principal to be out in the hallways, visible to students and teachers.  This is hard to do.  Every day I try to get into classes.  If I can not, I always make time for an “engagement walk” where I simply walk through the hallways and look into classes.  I’m looking for one thing: student engagement.  Here are the types of questions I ask myself.  Are the kids in their seats or up and active?  Are they given an opportunity to speak and process?  What does the energy of the classroom look like?  How are the desks arranged?  How many computers are open? Are the students recording their information somewhere?  How is that being processed?  Do the lessons look like they have purpose?  Do the lessons look planned?

Obviously we have formal observations that we do for every teacher every year, but those are almost always well planned and engaging.  By simply walking around, we can learn a lot about the quality of teaching and learning in our classrooms.  Generally, (though not always) lessons that look great are great.  Balancing formal lesson observations with informal ones is a great way to identify the needs of our school.

Walk the talk.  Eric was successful because he expected people to engage with technology.  To lead that, he engaged with it himself; he learned… a lot.  This is a man who knows about apps and tools. He is enthusiastic about them because kids liked him.  Kids who hated school liked using these tools. I think Mr. Shenninger would agree that none of it works on it’s own.  It is not the technology that matters, it is people’s interactions with the technology that does.  That means people have to be free to choose the technology they want to use because it has to make sense to them.  The key was to get people to be able to explain why it was useful. Once they could do that, they got the buy in from their students.

In case you are wondering, technology will be a part of how we grow UAS but it will not be all of it. We are an IB and American school and as such we have to consider different ways to engage our students.  We remain dedicated to literacy, school culture and student voice.  For the past month, when not in classes, I have been looking at data, examining the school’s values and reaching out to students to try and improve the school in these three areas.

When making change… walk briskly, but walk.  Change is tough.  In my first role as Principal, I moved too quickly. Unlike this school, I was in one that had some significant challenges.  I moved too fast and was very critical of some of the practices I came across.  I adopted what Daniel Goleman would refer to as a Pacesetting Leadership style (more on different styles here).  At UAS, we do have some work to do, but we are coming at it from a very strong foundation.  We have already begun to raise expectations and the school year has started off very well.  Low level disruptions are down and attendance is up.  Sustainable change must be accomplished at a reasonable rate.  It took Mr. Shenninger six years to accomplish what he did.  Not one, not two… six.  His accomplishment is astounding but it took time.

I left my dinner with Mr. Shenninger extremely energized.  I am so proud to be able to walk the halls of this school.  There is a dynamic learning environment here and amazing teachers who genuinely care about their students.  Being an educator an equally challenging and rewarding job.  As UAS grows to become a world-class international school, I hope that parents, students and teachers will walk with us – it’s going to be a fantastic journey.

 

COMING UP IN OCTOBER:

October 3 to 5 – Grade 10 MAP testing

October 5 – Grade 11 and 12 Theatre Trip to Chiang Mai

October 13th – Progress Reports go live on the Portal

October 17th –  UAS Family College Night 5:30 – 7:30MPH 

PLEASE RSVP: UAS Family College Night RSVP & Questionnaire

October 19th and 20th – Professional Development Days (no school for students)