Schools form the backbone of any good community. In fact, many communities rely on their schools for much more than teaching and learning. They look to their schools to promote a learning culture that lasts long after graduation. They depend on schools to help in weaving the very fabric of society, contributing to the social and personal development of everyone who walks through their doors.
In this issue of Teach Middle East Magazine, we highlight the work of the dedicated staff and students at Al Ittihad Private School Al Mamzar (IPS-M). The school prides itself on providing the perfect combination of academic excellence and strong values.
Al Ittihad Private School Al Mamzar is an American Curriculum school, underpinned by Emirati Culture, Character and Philosophy… IPS-M is unique! They work towards preserving the local culture and heritage and instilling core Islamic values in their learners. Whilst keeping their religious values intact, they prepare their students to meet the needs and challenges of the modern world with high competency, confidence and competitive skills.
IPS Mamzar offers an American curriculum, following US Common Core standards, and adapted to be culturally responsive to the Emirati culture and Islamic tradition. IPS-M is a fully inclusive learning community, they firmly believe that every member of the community has a distinctive voice, purpose, and gift. The concept of tolerance is embedded in their daily lives as they live their Islamic religion within the context of all that they do. Hence, they have developed special bonds with all of their families, who understand the school’s uniqueness and see the school as an extension of family life.
With 40+ years of experience, innovation and passion in education, they are proud of their legacy and heritage. They foster opportunities for their children to participate in an education that prepares them for life and immerses them in their God given Emirati culture.
The inception of Al Ittihad Private School Al Mamzar, which was over 40 years ago, was a visionary and courageous step taken by the founders. The founders were in tune with the spirit of this great nation as they dared to dream big. The school continues to strive to live up to the vision of the founders through a commitment to positive religious, social, emotional and academic outcomes.
“Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand”
Learning Communities, Teams, Collaborative Learning and Agile Scrum
Xunzi’s thought has never been so pertinent…
To understand a Professional Learning Community Culture that is underpinned by Agile thinking and action, at IPS-M they ensure that all their decisions and thinking are supported by sound research and literature… hence, as they embarked upon this foundational change, this change itself needed to be informed by an understanding of the changing nature of leadership, its definition and its application in the school.
Duignan and Bezzina (2006) express the notion that a shift in the meaning of leadership as it pertains to schools is required. This shift is needed to encourage an organisational culture that … promotes, nurtures and supports leadership. Further, they refer to this change as… Building a Culture of Leadership. This culture of leadership, a leadership that is shared, is required in order to enable school staff, teachers in particular, to feel that they have a sense of commitment and belonging and involves creating new collaborative learning communities.
This idea of a learning community builds on the work of Peter Senge (1990) who determined that a learning organisation was one where groups of people, expanded their capacity to create, to devise broad patterns of thinking and where people continued to see and work to the whole together.
Emerging from a similar theoretical base, Professional Learning Communities have at their core teachers who are usually designated into groupings (faculty or year level teams), where the focus of discussion and reflection revolves around student needs and outcomes (DuFour, 2004).
Agile methodologies share a similar heritage where they are essentially about collaboration, bringing people together, espousing a team approach, where the team as a whole move forward, with rules being cross-functional and shared (Ocamb, 2013). Agile de-emphasises specialised roles, encouraging equality of team members, creating great synergy with the concepts of shared and servant leadership. It aims to create environments where boundaries between disciplines are blurred, emphasising the work of the team as opposed to a group of specialised individuals. The Agile Methodology, using Scrum techniques, (various Agile methodologies exist), utilises an empirical process of control, projects are deconstructed, using a similar process to ‘backwards by design’ (Wiggins and McTighe, 2011) and employs an iterative action-research style approach (Gray, 2009).
With a major focus on developing highly efficient collaborative teams, Agile aims to deliver projects in a cohesive and timely manner. The formation of ad hoc teams consisting of highly empowered individuals, creates the potential conditions for leadership and agency to emerge (Cohn, 2010). Its strategic focus on peer- to- peer learning (Boud, 1999), professional development by doing, co-leading, sharing and co-construction.
A ‘Pandemic of Change’.
As Agile thinking, particularly embodied in the foundational structure of the PLC movement within the school, begins to permeate through both conscious and unconscious thought, the school was well placed to absorb the shock of the massive ‘freight train strike’, the unforeseeable change to education that was wrought by the COVID 19 pandemic.
With Professional Learning Teams already in place, Agile thinking in preparation for the predicted changes became action. It became very clear, having followed the China experience of city, followed by nationwide closure that there was a very real potential that the UAE, and Dubai would follow suit. At the Executive level the decision was made to begin researching what eLearning may look like should schools close and the nation shut down… in fact, they know that it was not so much eLearning, it, in fact was the development of a Remote Emergency Teaching strategy.
Using Scrum methods to enhance and enact the Agile process, they, over a series of closely linked and timely meetings of determining, (in Scrum speech), Backlogs, Release Backlogs and Sprints, supported by constant debugging through stand up meets … (basically, they brainstormed, prioritised, developed actions based on SMART Goals, tested, retested their thoughts and actions), a full two weeks prior to the announcement to shut down, they had decided on the curriculum changes required, (a focus on power, enduring, and leverage standards), what a day looked like, (truncated, focussed with a view to screen-time v personal study time, synchronous/asynchronous learning), screen free days and of course, which platform to use to deliver their classes. (Zoom v Teams v Schoology… Schoology was chosen, live tested over the two weeks as they approached the Spring Break).
Much of this work was researched and carried out by their teachers (they truly did become, teacher leaders/researchers), in their PLTs…
This method and way of leading, continues today… and helped inform the hybrid model of education that the school is currently delivering.
Hybrid Learning Model
IPS-M’s mantra is ‘Honouring our past, Living in the present and Leaping into the Future’. While firmly grounded in the accomplishments of their great past, IPS hurtles into the present with a bold vision directed to their future. In light of the current pandemic, the present became the past, and the future became the present. Since March 2020, their professional learning community was catapulted into a new era of teaching and learning. They developed an Action plan for their return to school in the Fall of the 2020-2021 academic year. With the guidelines and precautionary measures set by the KHDA and Ministry of Health, they prepared to embark upon an academic year that would be a Hybrid model of learning. A portion of their learners was at school and the other at home. Their teachers were prepared to be effective under these new circumstances. Their Heads of Department and Coordinators ensured that the teachers developed a viable curriculum with prioritised standards, valid and reliable common formative assessments, and the utilisation of evidence-based instructional practices. Executive meetings that were once held face to face became virtual meetings, parent coffee & conversations were conducted remotely, and students and teachers were upskilling themselves with the newest technologies. A huge shift occurred, and their team adjusted to ensure the continuity of learning. Through it all, they maintained their theme of re-imagining education, which serves as the driving force for their thought process and strategic planning.
Their courageous and talented team of leaders and teachers were tasked with envisaging the needs of the learners during and post a global pandemic. Their professional learning teams collaborated to envision what’s next best practice and what learning may look like next term, next academic year, and years to come. With the PLC process as the driving force, they were able to conceptualise the future challenges and solutions for their families, their communities and the society. Their learners are happy, engaged, and hopeful.
Rahhal Program at IPS Mamzar
After much research about tertiary education in the UAE, it was found that there was a significant portion of Emiratis who did not enrol in institutions of higher learning after graduation. Even though the school boasts a 100% graduation, they knew there was a need in the greater community that had to be addressed. In addition, they reflected on some of their existing students and alumni and recognised that many of them had special talents and skills that could have been further developed. Taking this into consideration, they introduced the Rahhal program to the IPS Mamzar family. This courageous step is a prime example of the school’s responsiveness to the community’s needs. In the Spring of 2020, IPS Mamzar became the first predominantly Emirati school to participate in the KHDA Rahhal program, and this occurred in the midst of the pandemic.
Frequently Asked Questions about Rahhal can be found here (https://www.khda.gov.ae/en/rahhalfaqs)