The UAE's Education Influencers, 2017 launches its very first educational influencers for 2017. Through their hard-work and pioneering initiatives these individuals share one thing in common - they are all shaping and changing the UAE's education landscape for the better...
The UAE's Education Influencers, 2017
By C Hoppe
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 Simon O’Connor 

Although publishing examination results and monitoring assessment data is a fairly routine task for school principals abroad, here in the UAE, we all know things tend to be a little different.

And, that’s why recognises Jumeirah College’s- Simon O’Connor and his unwavering dedication to publicly publishing so much of the school’s results and data and proving the added value that the school provides through ensuring that all students are offered the support to achieve their potential.

To facilitate this, O’Connor has established systems from year seven at JC, to set a baseline against which each student’s academic performance is registered, monitored, evaluated, shared and addressed with parents, staff and students.  In particular, he ensures that the students who are neither the stars nor the less able (the silent majority) are fully included and supported through this process. 

O’Connor also ensures that students have the widest possible range of both academic subjects and extra-curricular activities – many of the latter being student led – so that there are as many diverse opportunities for involvement and experience within the school community as possible.


How long have you worked in the UAE? 
I’m now in my fourth year in the UAE, having moved here in August 2013.

What made you choose the education sector?
When I was 18 I took a gap year before going on to university. I went to Zimbabwe and taught in Masikana School outside Marondera. This is a rural school 11km from the nearest road. There was a shortage of teachers and, not surprisingly, the local teachers were reluctant to teach in the most remote locations. I taught English, History and Commerce up to GCSE and discovered, quite by accident, that I loved teaching. I’ve now worked in five schools for over twenty years, and that love for teaching has never left me.

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?
Education is a protracted process and stability is an important element in success. The expat community in the UAE is, by nature, transient and at the mercy of the global economy. This impacts at every level and, in a school context, affects both students and staff. Trying to serve such a fluid community is probably the greatest challenge.

What are the key milestones in your career so far?
The first milestone was getting into teaching in the first place. It was very much by accident and, having completed my PGCE, I initially struggled to get a job. I very seriously considered doing something else. It was my mother who persuaded me to give it one more try – and I’m still grateful that she did. It is interesting to consider what may have happened if I had not persisted.

The second was moving to Dubai, and getting the opportunity to work with GEMS and Jumeirah College. I have no doubt that moving from home country requires a leap of faith for everyone – and there are always many reasons not to do something. But both my family and I have enormously enjoyed the opportunities that living and working here have brought and have no regrets at all.

What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date - and why?
The nature of this job is that achievements inevitably reflect those of the students. Over 20 years I have taught and worked with thousands of young people, many of whom have gone on to great success.

I think one student characterizes what all teachers try and do – she arrived at the school I was working at incredibly unhappy, demotivated and with very low expectations of what she could achieve. Over two years I, and a number of other staff, worked to help her to believe in herself and to achieve what she was capable of. It was hard work and required a lot of persistence, but she eventually grew in confidence and gained excellent A level results. She also got accepted into a top university where she went on to get a first class degree.

Teaching is about helping people realise their potential and giving them options for their future. It was wonderful to play a small part in someone turning around their life so completely.

Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?

  • The knowledge that every day is going to be different.
  • The opportunity to work with staff and students who continually amaze me with what they can achieve.
  • The understanding that what happens in schools can make such a difference.

What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?
I really don’t set myself targets in that way. I have always just tried to do as good a job as possible and to make sure I still enjoy it. As long as I’m still enjoying it I will keep doing what I do.

What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success?
See previous answer!

What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?
The people.


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