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“Katy Taylor is an outstanding practitioner in all sense of the word. Her dedication to teaching and learning in the classroom, the planning of the lessons she teaches and her assessment of the students she comes into contact with, never falters.” Mr Simon O’Connor- Head teacher, Jumeirah College

It is often said that a great teacher is one who can transfer their love and enthusiasm for learning to their students. Katy Taylor is one such teacher.  Katy’s passion for teaching was not always there and her unconventional route into teaching could be one of the secrets to her success.

“I can’t say that I’ve always wanted to be a teacher the way some teachers do. I didn’t consider teaching until the age of 25 when a friend, who was training a local inner city school in Bristol, told me an anecdote about some unconventional strategies he was using to get his class to settle down and learn maths. Something about the story resonated with me. He was being challenged on a daily basis. He was making a difference, and he was thriving on it,” she shared.

His story resonated with her in such a positive way. It led to her decision to become a teacher. Katy already had a degree in English. She applied for a PGCE at Bristol University and in her third year of teaching, she was appointed second in department for English at that school.

It is not surprising that today Katy is the Head of English at an outstanding school, Jumeirah College in Dubai.

Below, she shares with Teach Middle East Magazine a few key strategies that work for her inside the classroom.

Who inspires you most? Why?

It’s difficult to choose one person. I’ve been really fortunate throughout my life to be surrounded by excellent mentors. I am grateful for the strong and successful women in my life – my family, my friends, my colleagues, and all the students I’ve worked with who have all played a part in inspiring me along the way.

Share two strategies that you employ to effectively engage and challenge your students.

This depends upon the context. When I worked in England, it was really about being creative and grabbing students’ interest from the first second. When I worked in Spain, it was about focusing on bilingual expression through a focus on literacy. Here in Dubai, I have to focus specifically on giving students work models to enable them to hit the highest grade criteria because we are aiming for the very highest grades possible. My affirmation for this year was to do the work along with the students. So now, whenever I set an extended piece of writing or exam paper, I sit it with them and share my work for them to mark. I’ve found this to be really effective in getting students to believe the highest achievement is possible. It also gives a stronger sense of us working towards a shared objective.

What is the one key thing that you would recommend to help teachers who wish to create an inspiring learning environment?

Know your subject and be passionate about it.  My favourite interview question is to ask, “What one item would you take from your classroom to teach a lesson in the desert?” This speaks volumes about a candidate.

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

Two years ago, we painted a tree on the display board in our English office, which the whole school has now come to know as ‘The Learning Tree’. We started an informal process of departmental observations where positive feedback (only) was written on a leaf, which was pinned onto the tree for everyone to see. The concepts behind the tree were that we could be inspired by each other, and praise the good practice within the department. Since then, we have developed different coloured leaves for varying the focus of our observations. This has led to collaborative observations across the school, including our Open Doors Days, where we invite staff to drop into English lessons.

How did you come up with the “Every Child Will …” initiative? How will this help to raise students’ attainment and progress?

When I became Head of English at the beginning of this academic year, I wanted to make sure that the departments were united in our approach to teaching and learning. In our first meeting of the year, we looked at the way in which Team Great Britain had been so successful in the Olympics and from this starting point; we worked collaboratively to come up with a vision for the English department. We all had an input and we came up with: “Every Child Will’. We agreed that we would work, whatever the barriers to learning, to support every student to fulfill his/her very highest potential and then we each wrote a personal affirmation that we would focus upon to ensure that we maintained this vision in our own practice.

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

I don’t think anything would surprise them! I’m a pretty open book and my colleagues see the true me every day.

What is the best professional advice that you have received?

Do what your moral code tells you is the right thing to do; no matter what other people say, if you believe it’s important, then do it and keep going.