1. Do not over-promise and under-deliver.
An easy mistake to make is to get carried away with your ideas, especially when you are speaking off-the-cuff. Don’t morph into the politician who promises everything to everyone, just because he wants to be liked and wants you to choose his school. Be honest and tell it as it is. It is better to have 100 happy customers after the first month of school, rather than having 200 disgruntled parents who want to take their children out of the school. As school leaders, we should tell the truth, not just for moral reasons, but for pragmatic reasons as well.
2. Do not focus on the business and take your eye off the education.
The majority of schools in the Middle East are private enterprises. Therefore, they need to make a pro t at some stage. To focus too heavily on the business and not on education means that there is the danger that the school will not deliver the best quality product to the most important people in any school – the children. Believe that you should always do what is right by the children in your care and you will not go wrong.
3. Do not think that you know everything because you have done it all before.
The person opening the school might be a very experienced principal, but that person should not believe that he/she knows everything about the new enterprise upon which he/she is to embark. There are cultural and legal expectations in Dubai and the Middle East that are different from other parts of the world. Even if you have opened a new school in the same part of the world, it might be that the dynamics that surround your school are different from those that you have experienced before. Be prepared to learn. Take yourself and those that are in your school on an exciting adventure that will bring about happiness and success for your team and everyone involved in the new and exciting project.
4. Do not ignore the infrastructure.
The most important work in any school takes place in the classroom, but there is a large infrastructure that supports these activities. Some of these are internal to the school, such as the administration, and some are external, such as the transport systems. Some of the major concerns for parents can be the buses that take their children to school and the car parking problems for those parents who drive their children to school.
5. Do not forget to have a vision and to involve everyone in the building of the vision.
If you do not know where your school is going, you will not stand a chance of getting there. You have to have an aim and a vision and then plot a map of how you will achieve that vision. Always remember that you cannot achieve it on your own; neither can your paid team achieve it without the help and support of the children and parents. Make the children and parents part of the delivery of the vision, and its construction as well. It can be done if you have the belief and core principles. Inspire and energise others, so that they inspire and energise you.
At Oaktree Primary School, we have done our very best to avoid the pitfalls that I have outlined above. I think and hope that we have succeeded. Our doors are opened to you, come along and say hello.
By Christopher McDermott