Alison grew up in County Durham, in a town called Chester-le-Street in the North East of England. She had a very happy childhood with her parents and elder brother. They were a close-knit family who regularly got together for special occasions.
Her mother was an inclusion teacher and her father was an engineer. Alison has very happy memories of annual family camping holidays in Europe. She have always loved the outdoors particularly time spent on the coast and at the seaside
Outside of school, Alison was particularly interested in music, playing in weekend orchestras and also playing piano, clarinet and violin in bands. Alison was also keen on sports and played in the county netball and hockey tournaments including county swimming & athletics events.
In this A Moment Feature we get to know more about Alison, the woman, the teacher and the school leader.
- What are your fondest memories of school and who was your favourite teacher?
I loved going to school, especially in my junior years 7-11 years and I liked being selected to do jobs for the teachers and the headteacher. I loved project work and activities that were more creative and visual and I really enjoyed being given extra responsibilities because it helped me develop self-confidence.
At Junior school I was identified as having a talent for sports and I was often selected to play for teams with members older than I was. One of my fondest memories was a ‘snow day’ – a day we couldn’t travel very far as the roads were closed due to the bad weather. My mother couldn’t drive to her own school and therefore had to teach my class and I can remember being incredibly proud of her.
My secondary school years were more challenging. I really had to work hard to achieve, things didn’t come so naturally to me and I didn’t seem to be able to find a niche or a subject to excel at except my sports and performing arts.
Although I didn’t have a favourite teacher, I would say that one of my best teachers was my English teacher. He was a passionate and intelligent teacher and was always willing to give his time to help me achieve my best despite the fact he was a very busy deputy headteacher.
- What led you to a career in education?
I always wanted to work in the medical field. I was inspired by forensic science after watching TV dramas and a work experience, observing my friend’s dad at work in hospitals in and around Newcastle. However, I didn’t achieve the qualifications required to enter into this work so when I left school I initially registered to train as a nurse, but soon realised it wasn’t really what I wanted to do (I am not good at early mornings and the sight of too much blood!).
So, I decided to follow in my mother and grandmother’s footsteps and become a teacher and spent the following four years at Northumbria University studying for a Bachelor In Education (Hons) Degree and as soon as I started teacher training I was in my element. Teaching came naturally to me and for the first time I was excelling in my ‘work’ and being recognised as a talented and engaging teacher.
- What are some of the key lessons you have learned as a school leader?
This job isn’t easy, being the inspiration, visionary coach, sounding board, disciplinarian, advocate, negotiator, instructional leader, face and voice of the school is an extremely tall order. Along with many other technical aspects of the job like building management, health and safety, finances, marketing, recruitment, human resources and local politics.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned is the importance of developing a strong and capable team around you, a team that you value, a loyal cohort of like-minded leaders, which helps make this big job a little easier.
Another big lesson is the importance of parent and community engagement, the basis of which is built on trust. It needs to be earned and subsequently that trust feeds naturally into respect. However, if that relationship breaks down, no one wins, leaders need to earn trust and command respect.
- What advice would give to other female educators who aspire to be principals?
First and foremost, I’d say get quality training and connect and learn from other more experienced teachers. Experience different schools, various locations, learn from different styles of leadership and identify where your niche is. Play your career journey to your strengths, dream big and practice resilience – but always believe in yourself and your potential.
Proactively manage your own career; don’t wait to be seen, be positive, dare to be different and don’t be afraid to take risks. Having said that, remember to take care of yourself, it is important to take regular breaks, spend time with family and friends, and eat well to have a sustainably healthy lifestyle. Be a creative, solution orientated problem solver, because schools always have a host of difficult, complicated problems that require innovative solutions.
- What educational reforms has the UAE witnessed over the past decade?
The UAE has undergone monumental changes over the last 10 years with some major educational reforms. This includes a moral education initiative as a core component of the curriculum. These values are used to reinforce the history and development of the UAE, as well as educate about local customs, values and traditions.
The evaluation of educational standards has changed and developed over the last 10 years. A strategic plan was launched by the Ministry of Education to develop an innovative education system for building a knowledgeable and globally competitive society. The UAEs school inspection framework laid the benchmarks for success to ensure quality education and support schools’ improvement and students’ outcomes.
Technology is definitely redefining the game and opening new ways of learning. Remote working and learning has brought the use of devices and online learning platforms to the forefront of educational provision, however ‘the act of teaching isn’t just imparting what’s in your head to a captive audience. Teaching is a ‘performance’, it is reading the room and working it.
‘This is where technology really falls short’ – Harpreet Purewal, a journalist for The Guardian newspaper.
There is an increase in focus on inclusion and supporting people of determination. Ensuring the provision of quality education for students of determination has always been a central feature of our school. The concept of inclusive education lies at the heart of effective education. It encompasses the principles of diversity, personalisation, equity, respect, acceptance and enrichment. As we improve the quality of inclusion in our schools, we improve education for all.
- Has COVID-19 presented you with any opportunities?
We have found that the current times have forced our hand to be more technologically advanced and learn new ways of doing our jobs and develop new skills – #NewDaysNewWays
We are also a stronger and more supportive community. Whilst we may be ‘further apart’ physically in terms of social distancing, this period has made us feel closer together, whilst we are working collaboratively to overcome all of the challenges we have faced in recent months
- With technology in mind, where do you see Dubai Heights Academy in the future?
We want to grow and establish ourselves as a leading school in Dubai, so we have partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to trial a three-year unique Artificial Intelligence Literacy programme for our secondary students. Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic around the world, we continue to move forward with this project. Our collaboration with MIT is the first of its kind in the Middle East and introduces a new trend in learning.
This program aims to bring computational thinking into the classrooms of Year 7s, with an expansion to Year 8 and Year 9 in subsequent years, balancing traditional learning with modern technology. Alongside their usual academic curriculum, students will be introduced to a set of learning modules as part of their weekly computing classes, partnered with after school extracurricular activities. Our teachers will be working closely with MIT Education Consultants to focus on the humanities, mathematics and science of Artificial Intelligence and computational thinking.
We want to provide our students with a promising future in a digital world, with access and opportunities in life to become innovators of technology, developing proficiency and empowering them to create things that add value to themselves and the society around them. We are excited to announce this will start this term.
We aim to complete phase one of our secondary department soon. We have upgraded our first-floor facilities over the summer months and now offer a performing arts black box drama room, upgraded science and food technology facilities, bespoke design technology and art rooms in addition to a vibrant breakout learning environment to suit personal learning needs. The development of the secondary sports hall has been temporarily on hold awaiting the announcement of when we can return to normal operations. We hope this will be in operation in early 2021.