It is not very often that you meet an educator who embodies true leadership and humility, Kingston Gilbert, Executive Principal and CEO of the Westminster School Dubai,a GEMS School, is one such educator. He possesses a rare combination of congeniality, wit and strong leadership skills, which sets him apart from your average school leader. In this issue of Teach Middle East Magazine, we get to learn more about the man who has been instrumental in transforming The Westminster School Dubai’s, KHDA ranking, from acceptable to Good with very good features (Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau results 2017).

They say the students who are often the most challenging in school turn out to be the best teachers, and this is true of Kingston. Kingston remembers his school days in his home country of India, as being enjoyable and life affirming, but they were not without their challenges. Kingston rose to the challenge and was the recipient of several accolades, while in school. He received the Best Prefect Award, and the Best Cadet’s Award. Upon his graduation from Loyola College in Chennai, he was awarded the Best Director’s Award.

Over the next 34 years, Kingston has gone on to become a well-respected and successful educator and school administrator, both in his native India and in the United Arab Emirates. He has also been the recipient of H.H. Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Inspirational Teacher Award  2009, in recognition of the innovative, distributive and progressive Class Councils of School Student Leadership. The list of awards he has received over the years as an educator is quite impressive and as recently as 2015, he was awarded the Education Leadership Award, by the World Leadership Congress and in 2016, he was the recipient of the Education Leadership Award for outstanding education leaders in the GCC. When asked, what motivates him, he pointed out that, awards or accolades do not motivate him, he works hard every day, to enrich the lives of the people that he works with, both staff and students. Below Kingston shares some personal insights.

Who or what inspires you most and why?

There is no one person or thing that inspires me, since childhood I have always admired people who are able to face what seem like insurmountable odds and come out successfully. People who possess an indomitable spirit in the face of extraordinarily difficult circumstances inspire me. You could say I am a fan of the underdog. People who can tap into the power of education to change and transform their lives, also impress me.

Share a few key strategies that you use to manage such a big school and get the involvement of all stakeholders.

To lead a large school calls for creative and innovative leadership. In order to ensure that a school, the size of The Westminster School Dubai, is run effectively, we develop and design systems and procedures, which create opportunities for each member of staff to lead. This starts with establishing a common vision for the school as well as shared goals and responsibilities. At the start of each school year, we set out the goals of the school and each member of staff, as well as students, set individual goals, which help the school to ultimately achieve its goals. This collaborative process is key to getting the “buy in” of all stakeholders and leads to a harmonious school, one in which everyone is committed to achieving the school’s goals.

What is the one thing that you would recommend to other principals who wish to create an inclusive school?

The one key thing that I would tell fellow principals who want to create an inclusive school, is to focus on the happiness and wellbeing of their staff and students first. For a school to function effectively, there has to be a culture of openness, tolerance and inclusiveness. Ensure that every single person, whether it is staff, students, parents or members of the public (who interact with your school) feel valued. As a leader, listen more than you speak. The vision of our school is, ‘Striving to integrate excellence…beyond borders’. The journey matters more than the destination. At Westminster School Dubai, we recognise that our vision is one that will be ongoing as long as the school exists, as striving for excellence is an ongoing process.

How do you help teachers to share good practice with each other?

With over three hundred teachers, I am proud to say that we have a wellspring of talents and at our school, sharing good practice has now become second nature. We not only share good practice within the school, but we have developed a good reputation in the education community in Dubai, for sharing good practice across schools. One of the key ways in which we help to develop this culture of sharing good practice is by allowing our teachers the freedom to innovate in their classrooms. They are able to carry out action research, try new methods and make small, but meaningful changes, which often have a significant impact on the students’ progress and attainment. The teachers are given opportunities to share their work with their colleagues. We celebrate our teachers and encourage them to be as creative as possible and the result is a group of educators who embody a sense of community.

What do you do for fun or to unwind after a long day?

Long days are now very normal for me. I do not feel the effects of the long days at school, because I enjoy being there. When I am there, I feel like I am with my extended family, as I am constantly surrounded by the joy and curiosity of the students and the camaraderie of my colleagues. When I am home, I like to go for long walks with my family, no matter what time it is, we try to do at least 5 kilometres. It is a great way to unwind, watch the world go by and spend time with those closest to me.

What is the one thing about you that would surprise your colleagues?

My colleagues generally think that I am very business-like and focussed. It may surprise them to find out that I have a very playful side. I enjoy a good laugh. Another thing that surprises my colleagues is that no matter what the problem they come to me with, they always leave with a solution!

What is the best professional advice that you have received and how has this helped you?

The best advice I have received is that leadership is more than just managing people and organisations. Leadership is investing in people so that, long after you are gone, the impact you have had on people’s lives, becomes a legacy that lives on. When I joined GEMS Education in 2003, I was attracted by the core values of the Company. The leadership of GEMS Education, Chairman and Founder Sunny Varkey and Chief Executive Officer, Dino Varkey, are committed to investing in people and creating a legacy of excellence in education. I am happy to be contributing to the building of this lasting legacy.