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The United Arab Emirates is fast becoming a beacon of excellence in education in the region. Schools and education authorities are beginning to think outside the box, to ensure that their students are well equipped to function efficiently in a changing world.

The adoption of new education technologies and the employment of 21st century teaching methods are being pioneered in schools all over the country. If you follow most mainstream media sources, you could be forgiven to think that this is only taking place in schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. However, we have discovered that schools all across the country are breaking the mould and taking their teaching and learning to new and exciting levels.

From Sharjah to Ras al Khaimah, Ajman to Fujairah, there is a wealth of best practice happening in schools. These practices, when shared, are great in helping teachers throughout the Middle East and beyond, to become even more innovative inside the classroom.

Teach Middle East Magazine is delighted to unearth these gems, and to bring them to the attention of the wider education sector within the region and beyond.

Ajman Academy is one such school. Teachers and students in Ajman Academy strive harmoniously to achieve the best learning outcomes for their students.

It is said that a school is only as good as its teachers, and that a good school cannot have a bad leader. Ajman Academy is a great school with great teachers and leaders.

The school, under the leadership of Director Dr Tassos Anastasiades, focuses on educating the whole child. Special focus is given to academic excellence and developing students’ independence, confidence and the ability to show tolerance and understanding to all.

Dr Tassos has held many distinguished leadership positions within the MENA education sector. With over 34 years of experience, he is acutely aware of what works in developing and maintaining an outstanding school.

The leadership at Ajman Academy not only recruits highly qualified and experienced staff, but also empowers their teachers to become leaders.

“We empower our teachers,” said Dr Tassos, “they are trained to become Leaders of Learning, using the Inspire…2…Teach strategy and working very closely with Incyte consultants.”

Incyte is a proven methodology, which Dr Anastasiades has used for four years in a number of schools.

This involves the selection of four or five outstanding teachers, who have been identified to become ‘Leaders of Learning’. These teachers are able to identify what good learning looks like in the classroom and what the key ingredients are, that are essential in planning, to ensure this takes place.

“It has been consistently recognised, that the quality of teaching and learning can only be improved over time, if all stakeholders ‘buy in’ to the concept of ‘grass roots’ improvement,” Dr Tassos shared.

He cited the following points as key elements that can be used to accomplish consistency in effective teacher performance:

• Sustainable improvements begin to take place when teachers see the need to improve and are provided with opportunities to do so from middle and senior management.

  • Teachers take ownership of their own professional development whilst, receiving mentoring and coaching support from middle and senior staff in the school.
  • The school works with learning experts who have a clear understanding of what outstanding teaching looks like and are able to guide the school towards achieving this for all teachers over time.
  • The quality of teaching and learning is linked to the attainment and progress outcomes of the pupils. Assessing an appropriate start point (benchmarking) using external data from GL, IBT and teacher assessments enables this. This data is used by teachers to inform their planning, so that all students make above expected progress in lessons. Outstanding learning becomes an expectation. No child left behind. The students work above expectations because they are inspired!

In addition to this, the senior leaders clearly identify the quality of teaching and learning that currently exists in the school. This is done via joint observations and learning walks, where the senior leaders cross- reference their judgements to verify the accuracy.

There is a rigorous programme in place to ensure that the teachers who are involved in the process are effectively prepared for their roles.

Dr Tassos explained that teaching mentees (volunteers) are invited to work with the Leaders of Learning. Leaders of Learning along with the senior leadership team have clearly established lesson expectations. These are referred to as ‘the essentials’.

Mentees are coached and mentored by the Leaders of Learning to ensure that their lessons are constantly meeting the required standards. Where standards are not being met, a professional discussion between the mentee and the Leaders of Learning ensues in which, mentees are provided with the support they need by the Leaders of Learning.

It is important to note that, the mentees undergo at least six observations during the programme. This is usually followed by professional dialogue that includes the setting of new targets to be accomplished in the next observation. The Leaders of Learning, record their judgments of the ‘essentials’ on a central spread-sheet.

The information collated within the programme is then used to guide the focus of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) sessions. Overall, the aim of the programme is to ensure that all lessons are either very good or outstanding, with outstanding becoming the norm instead of an exception. This approach is reflected throughout the entire school.

Ajman Academy features an IB Primary Years Programme and utilises the British curriculum in the Secondary phase, as its chosen curriculum to ensure that standards are benchmarked and taught using the IB approach, taking into consideration the local culture thus adapting the curriculum as appropriate.

The school is set to introduce a sixth form in September 2017, which will feature outstanding facilities that will make Ajman Academy a K-12 institution. Students can start their education journey at Ajman Academy and continue until they matriculate to university.

The IB Primary Years Programme involves students aged 3 to 11, and focuses on the development of the whole child as an inquirer, both in and out of the classroom.

Once students have been immersed into the programme, they become active and con dent learners, and inquirers, who understand the importance of physical and mental balance, and personal well-being.

When asked how the school helps students to successfully transition from the IB Primary Years Programme (IB PYP) to the British curriculum at the secondary phase, Dr Tassos shared that in 2017, the PYP and IB philosophy will also be implemented in year 7.

“The IB learner profile is apart of the mission of Ajman Academy and is translated into a set of learning outcomes in the classroom, encouraging all students to become inquirers and critical thinkers,” Dr Tassos shared, “students are encouraged to be open minded, caring and principled, and have the ability to reflect in a balanced way, as well as being very knowledgeable.”

Ajman Academy uses innovative education technology to enhance teaching and learning. Both teachers and students use technological devices and apps creatively in their projects and assignments across the different subject areas and grade levels.

Students also use technology for home work, and projects that are done outside of the classroom, thus ensuring that their engagement surpasses a superficial level of interaction with the applications that are introduced during lessons.

Ajman Academy has earned the reputation of being an outstanding school in Ajman. Dr Tassos plans to guide Ajman Academy to even greater accomplishments in the years ahead.

By Carolyn Lee

Carolyn is the editor at Teach Middle East Magazine.