She might only have been ‘on the UAE scene’ for a little over 18 months, but in that short time Samantha Steed, Principal at Ranches Primary School has been making some serious waves with Dubai’s parents.
For WhichSchoolAdvisor.com readers, it was her impassioned article advocating that homework for primary aged children be replaced with ‘home-learning’ which brought about one of our biggest responses ever to a single story.
For many of the UAE’s parents, it was a ‘light-bulb-moment.’ Having focused for so long on academic selection, exam results and tutored hot-housing; we collectively sighed with relief, when someone so eminently qualified finally put voice to something we all felt, but couldn’t quite put-into-words.
How long have you worked in the UAE?
Since August 2015. This is my second year.
What made you choose the education sector?
My desire to pursue a career within the education sector followed an interesting yet demoralizing time spent as a psychology assistant within Her Majesty’s Prison service in the UK. Education for the majority of inmates had been a negative and interrupted experience resulting in criminal activities. It seemed clear to me that the interventions offered within the prison confines came too late in the day. Therefore, it became my goal to be more impactful at an earlier point. After returning to full time education to gain my teaching qualifications I took up my first teaching post in London (nearly 20 years ago!).
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?
The rapidity of change both in education and in the UAE! Educationalists require a sophisticated range of skills to keep pace with globalization and the advancement of new technologies; I fear the supply of quality educators to the UAE will be unable to meet demand.
The UK is already facing a ‘teacher shortage crisis’ and this does not bode well for schools in the UAE, many of whom are competing for the same staff.
It could be argued that the UAE invests fewer resources into research initiatives than countries who are recognized as the most successful educators. Research is an important element of educational development and could provide the UAE with quality data from which informed policy could be created.
What are the key milestones in your career so far?
The Tuckman (1965) model for team development is quite inspirational. He introduced the ‘forming, storming, norming, performing’ categories which denote the stages of development a group travels through when joining together for a project. In my career, key milestones have been realized when the School is ‘performing’. I relax a little when school life ebbs and flows and when staff work in harmony.
In terms of career progression, my rise to Headship was fairly swift. I was part of a new wave of younger head teachers known as 40 head teachers under 40. I took the helm as the Head teacher of Haresfoot School in Hertfordshire (UK) before playing an integral role in its merger with the Berkhamsted Schools Group. This was an ambitious and at times controversial move, however, the outcome was outstanding and the newly merged school is now a centre of excellence in the UK Prep world.
After seven years in post I felt the time was right to challenge myself in an International setting. Leading RPS will become another important milestone in my career especially when we reach the ‘performing’ stage of development!
What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date - and why?
Passing GCSE maths! Failing my Maths O’ Level the previous year was an unpleasant experience. Failure is a tough lesson and pupils are often surprised that even school principals have had to overcome academic challenges.
Last year, I completed a Masters of Education programme whilst founding Ranches Primary School. The success of both projects has been deeply rewarding.
Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?
The rising sun: ‘thy beams so reverend and strong’ (Donne).
Responsibility: for my family and for Ranches Primary School. I hope to instill a strong work ethic in others because this, I believe, is the key to success.
Social media: an essential tool for International educators. There is so much going on in the world and a morning swipe through Twitter gets my brain in gear.
What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?
Leading Ranches Primary through its inaugural journey to success, is my primary aim. To see the school thrive in what is a very competitive field would be a fine accomplishment.
In a wider context, I am on a crusade to give children their childhood back. I disagree with homework for young children and the recent emphasis on computer-based assessments for children as young as 3 is, in my view, quite alarming.
Beyond all else, I value wisdom in others and hope that my personal and professional sapience increases along with my years in post.
What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success?
Multiply the talents in others. Leaders can accidentally diminish the skills’ of others whilst on their own quest for greatness. Wiseman (2014) addresses such leadership pitfalls in her book ‘Multipliers’ and reminds us that leadership traits such as micro-managing and tyranny are harmful to an organization.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?
I have no hesitation in declaring ‘the children’ as the most enjoyable aspect of working in education.
Children provoke such emotion and I feel incredibly proud of their achievements. We can find ourselves caught up in the managerial aspects of leadership so a visit to the classrooms restores faith and energy.
Being part of a learning community is another valuable part of the role. Relocating to Dubai has expanded my educational horizons and I have met some great educational thinkers both within the Ranches group and in other contexts.