Twenty-six years ago, Alison Turner embarked on her journey as an educator. Today, she is the Executive Primary Headteacher at the Kings’ School Dubai, rated as one of the top schools in Dubai by the Dubai School Inspection Bureau (DSIB) of Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) for outstanding achievements in school inspections carried out since 2008. She will be the first to tell you that her time as an educator continues to be one of her lifelong passions.
“I was born in Derbyshire and spent most of my school days in North Yorkshire, attending Tadcaster Grammar School and growing up in the beautiful city of York,” Mrs Turner says of her background.
A first impression of Mrs Turner is that she is bold and driven. She takes control of situations with ease, confidence and grace. This is a marked change in her personality, as growing up she was a very shy girl.
“I felt insecure most of the time,” she says as she recounts her childhood days.
Her desire to make a difference coupled with a growing need to help young children to learn from her past experiences fuelled her need to step outside her comfort zone.
Mrs Turner adds, “I was driven to become a teacher, so that I could help nurture children with good self esteem, confidence and self belief.”
This desire has ultimately guided her approach to teaching and learning. at the Kings’ School Dubai, the focus is on teaching the whole child, so as to develop well-rounded and balanced individuals. A concept that is fully understood and executed by Mrs Turner and the dedicated team of teachers at the school.
Who inspires you the most?
The children and teachers inspire me every day because there is no limit to what we can achieve together.
What are some steps that you are taking to advance your career?
The last few years have been full of exciting new challenges, which have undoubtedly expanded my skill set. I love to read about leadership and apply strategies with the team at Kings’. We think not only about what we do but also how we do it. Working collaboratively also enables us to learn from each other. In addition to this, I regularly work through a process of establishing ‘WWW’s and ‘EBI’s (What Went Wells, and Even Better Ifs) with my leadership team to see how our practice as a team can improve. The leadership team constructively challenge each other’s ideas in the hope that everything we do is of the highest possible standard. This also helps us to advance on our own learning journeys.
Name three ways in which you and your colleagues have sustained outstanding attainment in Fs in teaching and learning?
(1) Our youngest children learn through play, so the children’s needs and interests lead us. We ensure that the environment is relevant to them. (2) We have a strong focus on child initiated learning, which means that rather than impose learning on the children, they feel they are in control and this reaps its rewards. (3) We see ourselves as facilitators of learning, and ensure that the way in which the language rich learning environments are set up give children every opportunity to make progress in their learning.
Describe two ways in which you and your colleagues promote independent learning through critical thinking and enquiry at the Foundation Stage.
As our teachers play the role of facilitator, children are empowered to make decisions and be independent in their learning. In addition to this, a very important part of our collaborative and creative planning process is to consider what we ask the children as they learn. We carefully plan questions, considering concepts and learning outcomes, in order to promote higher order thinking skills.
Tell us two ways in which you use assessment data in planning the next steps for your students’ learning?
We are constantly using formative assessment to inform our next steps for teaching and learning. Class teachers regularly observe the children and assess the knowledge, skills and understanding the children confidently demonstrate. This guides teachers in their planning of next steps in learning. In addition to this, we have regular half termly ‘data snapshots’, which means we can measure the attainment and progress of every single child, and plan accordingly. By doing this, we can ensure that we are meeting individual needs and doing the best by every child.
What advice would you give to teachers who are struggling with tracking students’ progress and effectively sharing and planning next steps with parents?
Children’s learning is at the heart of all we do as educators. In order for children to learn they must be appropriately challenged. In order to challenge them, we need to know what the children already know, in order to plan for their next steps, so continuous formative assessment is crucial. This has to be our priority as educators. Once a formative assessment routine is established the actual tracking and target setting become very easy. Sharing this with parents as true partners in their children’s learning is crucial. One successful strategy at Kings’ is Parent Time. Every week, on Thursdays parents are welcomed into classrooms for up to 30 minutes, so that children can showcase their learning. Children might demonstrate a new skill or share some learning and parents can see this evidence in its various forms around the learning environment. at the heart of this is each child’s Learning Journal, which celebrates each child’s progress and success and reflects their individual learning journey. Children and parents share this with pride.
What is the best advice that you have received?
Rhonda Byrne’s book The Secret had the biggest impact on both my personal and professional life. It boils down to the power of positive thinking, visualising what you want to achieve and taking the necessary steps to making it happen. We can achieve whatever we want if we believe in it and want it enough.
Mrs Turner’s personal struggles as a young girl are often reflected in some of the new students under her charge. Molding these students into confident, life long learners is a welcomed challenge, as it provides a constant reminder of using perceived weaknesses to become confident learners, innovators and leaders. This clearly adds value to the concept of truly leading by example.