Parent Teacher Conference Reflections!


Before I begin, please make a point of coming to celebrate our huge National Day Celebration on Tuesday November 29th from 4:00 to 9:00.  This will be a fantastic event, managed by our students.  There will be games, food, fun, and much, much, more.  The school looks AMAZING and you really don’t want to miss out.  More on this next week!


I would like to thank everyone who took the time to come in for Parent Teacher Conferences on Wednesday and Thursday last week.  I especially appreciated those of you who took the time to feed back to me personally.  Most of what I heard was extremely favorable, that our teachers were giving high quality feedback, and classes are centred where they should be: on student learning. Referring to her daughter, one of our new parents commented that our teachers “really see who she is”.  This is great to hear! Education is a human endeavour; UAS teachers genuinely care about our students.  On Thursday afternoon I walked away with an extremely positive perspective of the strengths of the school.


Equally valuable were the handful of parents who came in to discuss things that aren’t going so well.  The most common of which is that some parents feel the school may be pushing their children too hard.  Let me be clear – our student’s physical and emotional health is our number one priority.  There are ebbs and flows in a school year and there will be times in the school year where our students will be working late.  That said, if your child is working themselves beyond a reasonable point, please stop them.  You can always come see me, Ms. Cummins, Mr. Cunningham or Ms. Mouganie.  The IB is by all accounts the most academically challenging high school programme there is.  No matter how it is structured, it is challenging. We are committed to more efficiently run our academic programme at UAS going forward.  We have already freed up time for high-achieving Math Studies and English SL students and we have given a number of extensions for students who needed them.  Communication is the key and we are absolutely here to help.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions for improvement, please come in for a chat, attend one of my coffee mornings, or drop me an email.  I look forward to hearing your voice and including it in our school improvement plans.

Before I go, I need to recognize two exceptional members of my team.  Ms. Rasha and Mr. Shabeer are the driving forces behind so much of what we do here.  For Parent-Teacher Conferences they organized the rooms, set up the sign-up sheets, and really did an incredible job!  If the event was a success, it was because of their great work.  If you happen to be in the office, please give them a big thank you!



Principal’s Coffee and Parent-Teacher Conferences this week.

November 20th, 2016.

Before I begin, I’d like to celebrate the great learning that happened in the Arabic Department on Thursday.  Learners from different levels of Arabic met in the MPH to share their experiences with the larger UAS community.  What really impressed me was the real-life application that I saw. Students from Grades 3 to 10 were creatively applying their learning in Arabic in a trade-show style forum.  Think of it as an event where social issues meet the Arabic classroom.  The learning was linked to the National Agenda and our students used their language skills to discuss possible solutions to real-life problems.  One group of students thought about using drones to send emergency response materials to people suffering from heart attacks.  Another group of students looked at solutions to poverty.  Other topics included social injustice, racism, and solar technology.  It was a truly great event. Unfortunately, the auditorium was too loud to get quality sound, but the video below does a great job of showing the type of learning our students are engaged with in their Arabic classes.

Parent-Teacher Conferences

This week is Parent-Teacher Conferences in high school from 1:00 to 6:00 on Wednesday and from 8:00 to 12:00 on Thursday.  If you haven’t already done so, please sign up to speak to your children’s teachers. Sign up will close at noon on Monday.  Click the link below for instructions on how to log on.  Please note, two of our teachers, Ms. Raleigh and Ms. Crlenjak are at a conference on Wednesday.  Please book with them on Thursday.  If their schedule is full, contact them by email and they will accommodate a meeting next week after school.


Principal’s Coffee Wednesday, November 23rd.

On Wednesday morning, I will be hosting my second parent coffee at 8:00 in the Secondary Library.  The topic of conversation will be understanding our 1 to 7 assessment scale.  I hope to see you there.


Fall MAP Results Available on the Portal

Dear Universal American School Parents,

The Universal American School of Dubai uses the MAP standardized test for elementary, middle and high school students. UAS will administer the test three times during the academic year; once in the fall, once in the winter and once in the spring. The fall 2016 results are now available on the UAS portal for parents.

The tests help the UAS educational professionals determine your child’s instructional level and measure academic growth throughout the school year, and from year to year in the areas of reading, mathematics, science and language usage. A Normative Data chart is a part of your child’s scores, which shows the average (mean) RIT scores for your child, in comparison to the average for UAS students and all students who took the test worldwide.

A RIT score is a different type of measure than a typical test that provides a percentage correct. It is also different from many tests that provide results based on your child’s score compared to others in his or her grade (a percentile ranking). Instead, the RIT score is an equal-interval scale, like feet and inches, which is independent of grade level. MAP is not a class ranking system as the tests focus on individual student learning growth.

You can find out more about the MAP tests and how to read the results from the following presentation:

MAP Parent Presentation Link:

MAP Report

Sample MAP Report and Key

In some cases a student’s RIT score may have gone down or their growth may be in the negative range from spring to fall testing. If this happened with your child, please do not panic as this is a single snapshot of the child’s progress and cannot be considered as an indication of a lack of learning. Our guide here is the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), which states, “Each assessment is only a snapshot at a single point in time. Negative growth does not necessarily mean a student is not learning, or that classroom instruction has not been effective, or that NWEA data is not reliable. Rather, negative growth allows for additional opportunities to change the way we discuss our students’ learning. Instead of ignoring these instances as anomalies or assigning blame for their results, we should recognize negative growth as an important element in the culture of data driven instruction. Simply put, for unexplained reasons student scores sometimes fall.”

As UAS continues to develop our data driven instructional practices, we believe we can address these anomalies while at the same time meet the needs of the students whose learning challenges may not have been detected before with our old tests. It is our intention at UAS to continue to administer the MAP test and look for trends that can be examined and determined.

Universal American School has put together a website on each of the divisional blogs that will give you information on the MAP test, on reading your child’s test results, and answers most questions you may have concerning MAP testing and test results. Links to other resources for parents are also available on this site. Additional information is also available from Northwest Evaluation Association at

The UAS Administrative Team

Report Info and Sign Up for Next Week’s Parent Teacher Interviews

Dear Parents of High School Students,

On Thursday, November 17th our Q1 reports will be going home.  As you will recall, the Curriculum Leaders and I revised our late work policy in High School.  Students who had unsubmitted work as of November 3rd were given a 5 day extension to get anything in that was late.  Students who missed that deadline will receive a report grade of “incomplete” marked by an “I”.

Our school has a policy of no surprises, meaning if your child is currently achieving a “1”, “2” or and “I” your child’s teacher will have reached out to you before Thursday.  If that did not happen, please communicate with me so I can follow up for you.

Lastly, on the 23rd and 24th we have our Parent-Teacher Conferences.  Please follow the following link for sign-up instructions ptc-guide-fall-20162

We look forward to discussing your childrens’ learning with you.

Undercover Boss!


Last week there were two new students in classes!  Because our Grade 12’s need a quiet space to work on their Individual Oral Commentaries, Mr. Coppes and I donned some school uniforms and lived life as a student.  Mr. Coppes chose to go to a number of different classes, whereas I followed one student’s timetable for three of the four days.  Here is what I learned:

Our standards are improving!  In the past 14 months, I have formally and informally observed and judged over 100 lessons.  The target for this year is 300 lessons between myself and my immediate colleagues.  That number will be matched again by Curriculum Leaders, meaning we will have information on over 600 lessons by year’s end.  This will have a massive impact on our classroom practice.  To give some insight to our community, a lesson is judged in the following areas –

1) Teacher knowledge of their subject and how it is learned.

2) Demonstration of effective planning, including the provision of an effective learning environment.

3) Student engagement with their learning.

4) Dialogue and use of questioning to promote critical thinking.

5) Effective classroom management.

6) Effective use of Information and Communication Technology.

7) Differentiated instruction to ensure the needs of all learners are met.

8) Clarity of learning objectives, as understood by the students.

9) Effective use of workbooks or digital resources for later review.

Teaching is truly a skilled profession.  Each student must make measurable progress in every lesson.  An effective teacher has the ability to survey a room, transitioning from one activity to the next when the learning is ready.  The best lessons I saw were extremely well planned, but had scope for moving on if appropriate.  In these lessons, teachers communicated a breakdown of exactly how the lesson was going to unfold, expecting high quality engagement and/or high quality work to be produced at all stages. In these lessons there was a balance of teacher directed instruction and student directed learning, often in the form of generating a group presentation to be given in that class – which meant no homework!  When teachers were on target with their time, great learning took place.  Well-organized teachers understand exactly when to shut down the active learning and deliver a lesson “plenary” that reviews the learning objectives.

Lessons where all students were learning the same thing at the same time were less effective.  These types of lessons were much more common in last year’s observations, but some still exist today.  Perhaps it was a difficult concept that one or two students are struggling with.  When we stay on one topic until everyone gets it, a number of students would get bored and tune out. This type of teaching is becoming increasingly antiquated, and I’m proud to say it’s being phased out of our school.

Learning and Literacy are the focal points of a modern education.  At UAS, led largely through the incredible work of Ms. Gibson, we are changing our culture from a teaching-centred school to a learning-centred one.  The lessons are increasingly focused on growth and problem solving.  We are challenging our students to understand how to make rational, intelligent arguments that consider multiple perspectives.

As a student, I was surprised at how quickly the day went by.   In class, I was most inspired by sharing my ideas with other classmates.  Our students have big ideas and those ideas have enormous value.  We have a responsibility to push our students to be more confident learners – ones who take risks in their learning and are unafraid of being wrong.  Too many of our students are sensitive in their learning, and I sensed that many were afraid of making mistakes. Our best teachers are getting a lot out of our students, challenging them to push the boundaries of what they can do.  This is the mission of UAS in practice; empowering our students to become caring, critical thinking, responsible global citizens… one class at a time!

What types of learning last the longest?

Today and tomorrow, UAS is hosting the Universal American School Model United Nations (UASMUN). The students have organized everything, from the lanyards all the way up to the topics being debated.  They have done a fantastic job!  Running an event like this requires a lot of thinking.  The students are proudly dressed in their professional attire and it’s clear they are taking the event seriously.  Not only that, but they are taking the learning seriously as well.  Since this is a relatively small event on the MUN scene, many of the participants are new.  Our committee chairs were explaining the roles of lobbyists, the structure of debates and giving tips on how to write resolutions.  I was really proud of their efforts.

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And it’s not just happening in MUN, I am seeing some interesting shifts in our expectations of students in other areas as well.  The school recently made a decision to put a water bottle machine in the cafeteria; a well-intentioned solution to making sure our students have access to potable water all day.  Our students have responded admirably.  A group of conscientious young people, partly inspired by the recent visit from Stephen Ritz have taken on the project of putting the water bottle machine out of business!

The Green Team spent today finding data on how much waste our water bottles produce.  They are asking students not to throw out their water bottles, collecting them instead.  This information will be used to create solutions that will have a profound impact on our school’s environmental footprint.

MUN teaches teamwork, public speaking, debate, structure, high standards and real-world skills such as diplomacy and negotiation.  The Green Team are learning about sustainability, bureaucracy, and perseverance.  Our students are hugely capable and they truly want to make not only their school a better place, but the world as well.

It’s events like these that make a school great.  Week Without Walls, our overseas sports trips, MUN, the Green Team, Slam Poetry night, the school plays and musicals, music recitals.  It’s really astounding how much goes into a school year here.  As these initiatives develop, our students will gain important learning on how to manage complex projects.  We will challenge our students to think about both the big picture and the small details.  The lessons learned from the experiences our students are getting this week are essential.  They will not remember the papers they wrote, they will not remember the outcomes of their resolutions. That isn’t the point.  They will remember that they were responsible for an event.  They will remember how to create a detailed plan and follow it through.  They will remember that they were part of something that had meaning.  The mission is truly coming ALIVE at UAS and I couldn’t be more proud.



Tuesday, November 8th – last day for Term 1 work to be submitted (Students with unsubmitted work will receive an incomplete grade “I” on their reports).

Thursday, November 10th – Professional Development Day – no school for students. Teachers on campus looking at MAP data and updating curriculum.  Some Grade 12 Students will be in school completing their IOC’s for English HL.

Tuesday, November 15th – Director’s Forum (Library)

Tuesday, November 15th and Wednesday, November 16th – HS Photo Days

Thursday, November 17th – Counselors Coffee: Parenting a Child with Anxiety presentation by LightHouse Center for Wellbeing, 8:00 – 10:00AM Location TBC.

Thursday November 17th – Q1 Reports go live on Portal at 4:00 PM

Wednesday, November 23rd – Principal’s Coffee (Library)

Wednesday November 23rd/Thursday November 24th – Parent Teacher Conferences.