Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sunrise, shine down a little love on the world today (Eric Carmen)

I have now finished my first full week at Ali Bin Abi Taleb Middle School.
For this post (the written version of the entrance way into the school) I thought it best to do some background on the school so it's clear what I'm talking about in the months to come.

In the local parlance it is a Cycle 2 school with students at Grades 6, 7, 8 and 9. This means it is a middle school (rather than Cycle 1 - primary or Cycle 3 - secondary) catering for boys aged about 8 to 13 (but, in practicality, some are as old as 17 or 18).

The area the school is in is called Al Foah - a 30 minuite drive north of Al Ain towards Dubai. The land turns to desert about 20 minutes into the drive and it's lovely watching the sun rise over the hills to my right as I make my way towards the school.

There are 202 boys here and the staff is made up of 29 teachers. Mr Mohammed is the school Principal and it is he I work most closely with. Unfortunately his father died earlier in the week so he has been away for the last three days of mourning.

The subjects taught are: Islamic studies; Arabic; English; social studies; maths; science; I.T.; P.E.; music; art.

My job title is 'Lead Advisor'. In effect that means I co-ordinate and work with the subject advisors and work to improve the leadership capacity in the school.

So far, necessity being the mother of invention, I have had to share advisors from my friend, Graeme McFadyen's school. This isn't ideal for either Graeme or me but it is the best we can do at this stage. In effect it's meant that as well as being the Lead, I am also advising the Arabic and English departments. Unfortunately I am also without a translator and this is a real challenge. I have been very fortunate, though, that a couple of staff, notably - librarian Mohammed and an English teacher, Nadal (pictured below with his Grade 6 English class), have been able to translate for me on a few occasions.

The school day starts at 7.15 with a school assembly...

The boys warm up for assembly.

The assembly band and music teacher.

...and then there are 4 x 45 minute periods until a break for half an hour and then three more periods. School finishes at 1.15 (with a hiss and a roar as three buses ferry most of the boys out to their homes). The staff also get away promptly, leaving the advisors to work for a few hours before our hometime.

The staff and students are incredibly welcoming and accepting of me and the other New Zealand Cognition advisors; far, far more warmly and welcoming than schools in my NZ experience. I have been overwhelmed by their generosity of spirit. It is so nice to be appreciated!

I am also loving being back in a school context and loving being back in classrooms again - interacting with the students and assisting the teachers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Get back to where you once belonged (Beatles)

My masthead has been inaccurate of late. Since July I've not been an educational consultant in far-flung lands at all. Instead I've been a painter, a wall-paperer, a driving instructor, a gardener, and an odd jobs man around home. In short I've been unemployed and enjoying a break.

But now, after 4 months of career inaction, I'm back. Back in employment (thanks to Cognition Education) and back in those far-flung lands. I'm in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) right now, waiting for a lift to Al-Ain [pronounced Al (as in 'you can call me Al) - Ain (as in Elaine without the E)] where I am to work as a lead adviser in a cycle 2 school. These are middle schools - after primary, but before secondary.

This excites me no end. I've missed being in a school; a place I've lived in for the last 26 years. Schools are special places with their own individual worlds.

Each school world has it's own culture, it's own characters and customs and ways of doing things. There are leaders and helpers, outsiders who interact with the organisation, rules and regulations, parents and their children - all moving and working in a symbiotic relationship. The movement can be in a variety of directions but when all are working together in a positive way a school is a force to be reckoned with.

Being part of that world can be very special and for the most part I've enjoyed the experience. I have now worked in a variety of places: New Plymouth Boys' (NZ); Macleans College (NZ); Waimea College (NZ); Mt Albert Grammar (NZ); Cambridge High (NZ); King John (UK); Walthamstow Academy (UK); Stratford High (NZ).

In Doha I worked as a professional development trainer for Principals, and while I loved that work I was not associated with a school. Now in Al-Ain I will be able to rejoin a culture and work with the school and other advisers to bring about improvements in key areas.

As I said - exciting. Stay tuned!