JESS Jumeirah is a school with very high standards and expectations; a school where children and adults are challenged to be the best that they can be! Set on a large, established campus, JESS pupils have space and opportunities to work and play in a stimulating learning environment.” – excerpt from Head Teacher, Mrs Ruth Burke’s message on the JESS Jumeirah website
The JESS Jumeirah School is one of two schools under the Jumeirah English Speaking School (JESS) umbrella. The sprawling campus, which is located near Safa Park in Dubai, is known for its outstanding academic performance, as evidenced in their inspection reports over the years.
JESS Jumeirah has been lauded for innovation and successful leadership at all levels. It is noted that the school enjoys a vibrant relationship with parents, students, teachers and non- teaching staff. In addition to these strong attributes, the school has implemented the effective use of technology, significantly adding to its continued academic success.
“One of the ways in which we empower our teachers is by allowing them to make the decisions about what they are going to teach,” said Mrs Burke, Head Teacher at JESS Jumeirah, “So, rather than the model where teachers are teaching a curriculum, we are very much a school where teachers are teaching the children.”
She elaborated by saying, “all our teachers are lead learners who are in charge of their classrooms. As lead learners, the teachers are empowered to look at what their children need to learn. It is not so much about simply following a curriculum anymore. Through formative and summative assessments, the teachers are able to define what the curriculum for particular groups of children is, as well as give focus to the needs of individual students within the classroom.”
According to Mrs Burke, teachers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas on projects that will benefit their growth, that of their students, colleagues and the school. They are given numerous opportunities to do this during the school week. Teachers are involved in school groups, which include assessment groups that look at assessments from ages 3-18 within JESS. They are also urged to take opportunities that will enhance their professional and personal development. As such, a number of teachers have done presentations at the What Works Conferences, which are held by the KHDA (Knowledge and Human development Authority). They have also written articles on education for magazines such as Teach UAE Magazine.
“The aim is to get teachers out there, so they can get involved and make a difference,” she continues, “through meta-cognition, they are able to deepen their own understanding of what’s going on in their own classrooms.”
A key element to the success of any institution is the establishment of solid relationships between all stakeholders. JESS Jumeirah has found a formula that works very well in securing and maintaining meaningful relationships on all levels.
“We have a culture in the school. Picture a triad where the child is in the centre and then you have the staff, the parents and the school. We all work together and this has added to our success. Right before the children start school, we have meetings where we explain our expectations and routines, so parents have a good understanding of what it is to be a member of the JESS community,” stated Mrs Burke.
To facilitate this, each fortnight, learning objectives are sent to parents to keep them updated on what their children are learning in the various subjects. It is important to note that the school’s senior management team (SMT) welcomes students at the gate each school day. This means that SMT and specialist teachers are accessible. It allows for both parties to interact with each other in an informal setting where small queries and lighter issues can be addressed.
“Parents are welcomed into the classroom during the first few years of school. This allows them to be in the learning environment where they can see the expectations, learning displays and resources. They are also able to see first-hand, as a teacher interacts with their child and other children. This means that if there is an issue, it can be dealt with promptly before it becomes a formal problem,” Mrs Burke shared.
The school employs the use of mobile technology, the D6 communicator to connect with parents. D6 communicator is used to keep parents well informed of school activities, new developments or news within the school. They are able to access this information online as well as via direct emails. Parent evenings and reports also play a key role. However, much emphasis is given to daily liaisons between the school and parents.
A few years ago an inspector asked the question, ‘When will ICT be no more, no less than a pair of scissors in your school?’ This question became a call to action and JESS Jumeirah took the initiative to assess the ways in which ICT could be integrated in lessons. This in turn led to a commitment to embed the use of ICT in lessons so that it became as routine as using traditional learning aids such as a pair of scissors. The use of iPads and laptops has now become routine in every classroom.
“We looked very closely at ICT within the school. Sometimes it is useful to use an iPad or a laptop; however, sometimes it is more beneficial to use a book,” Mrs Burke explained.
She continued, “We had to fund resources in classrooms to make our school as ICT efficient as it is now. This was a shared vision that our school community undertook. It led to a number of fundraising events with the support of our superb parents’ group, the Jumeirah Parents Group (JPG). Our school Board also made significant financial contributions to provide us with mobile technology such as; iPads and laptops, in every classroom.”
This initiative also involved educating the teachers, students and parents on how to use the technology. This led to parents developing an understanding that the use of technology would not be at the expense of the children’s literacy or numeracy skills.
“Sometimes the problem that some schools face when implementing ICT is that, they are not able to establish a balance between ICT and preserving students’ literacy and numeracy skills. These skills are crucial for students to be able to function in the world of work. We were very aware of this, so we did a lot of background work. Today, the children are more discerning and critical about when it is best to use the available ICT,” disclosed Mrs Burke.
She further explained that, ICT is also utilised for revision and consolidation, as Home Work is often linked to work that can be done online via designated websites. This has contributed to improving students’ use of multimedia software in their presentations.
“In some instances our students have excelled so much in ICT that they are better at it than some of our educators. I don’t think as educators we should be scared of that,” says Mrs Burke, “we have a group of students that we call Tech Leaders. These students really have a passion for technology and are very skilled. We encourage their skills by taking them to the KHDA conferences where they can show off what they know. We have them train our parents and some of our teachers in how to use iPads.”
She continued, “I also had a personal Tech Leader, who would set me specific ICT tasks once per week and follow up to ensure that the tasks were completed correctly. This has significantly improved my skills on the iPad. It goes to show that no matter where you are or what job you have, you still have to learn and very often, children are great at guiding us through learning processes.”
Tech Leaders also assist parents who may have difficulty in understanding how to use the mobile technology that the school offers. In one case where parents were experiencing challenges in how to use the D6 communicator after its launch, the Tech Leaders were given small kiosks at each gate of the school and parents were invited in to meet with them so as to be guided through the process. The school received an overwhelmingly positive response from the parents who were especially proud that it was students who were doing this. This empowered the students, resulting in them being engaged learners equipped with transferable skills.
The school’s community is dedicated to developing the leadership qualities of the students. Leadership opportunities that are available to students include; student council, playground monitor positions and enterprise groups that are in charge of specific fundraising activities and events.
JESS Jumeirah has also implemented a system of parent helpers who are volunteers assigned to various classrooms. Their responsibilities include making resource materials, carrying out administrative tasks and more importantly, working with small groups under the guidance of the classroom teacher. Parent helpers are instrumental in building the relationship between parents and the school.
The Jumeirah Parents Group (JPG) is yet another way in which the school fosters close ties with the parents. The JPG is responsible for organising fundraising events, socials and other opportunities for parents to get together within the school community. They also plan Easter egg hunts, student discos, Night Market, five-a- side football tournament for fathers and coffee mornings for new parents among other activities. These school events are very significant in bringing parents together.
The Jumeirah English Speaking School produces a magazine at the end of each school year. It features messages from the director, Mr R D Stokoe and the head teacher, numerous pictorials that include the school board, the various year groups with their teachers, students involved in various learning and extracurricular activities, special events (competitions, festivals and tours) and quotes from students who have completed the primary stage. It also features great achievements by students, such as a Guinness World Record won by nine-year-old Luca Matta of Year Four. Luca earned the record for most national flags identified in a minute in October 2013.
“We are committed to finding in every child something that they really excel at and enjoy. Our end of year magazine is a culmination of all the great moments that we have had within the school. It is also a great memorabilia for the students,” Mrs Burke said.
JESS Jumeirah believes strongly in promoting the achievements of the students. They celebrate each child’s gifts and talents. Added to this, the senior leadership focuses on transparency as they work to maintain a strong relationship with teachers, students and parents by fostering a sense of community. A school that has just over 700 students and over 60 staff members, could easily succumb to the challenges that come with running a fairly large school. However, they have proven without a doubt that the numbers are not the key focus. Their goal is to continue to empower the students, teachers, parents and the school community. JESS Jumeirah gives credibility to the JESS motto ‘Achieving excellence together’ as they continue to achieve outstanding results on all levels.