The road from senior management, back to the ‘coal-face’ of education is not one that is well travelled.
But, that was the road that Hartland Principal, Fiona Cottam decided to take, becoming the Principal (and CEO) of Hartland International School after being the Director of International schools within GEMS Education for three years, and Vice President of GEMS schools for one. Prior to her time in GEMS management, Cottam had been the Principal of the Outstanding rated Jumeirah College.
Cottam’s quiet confidence and experience have brought a new style of management and parent relations to Hartland, instilling a period of calm after three senior management team members left the school in 2015/16.
How long have you worked in the UAE?
My family and I moved to the UAE in August 2009. But this was not our first visit as Dubai was our final stop on our honeymoon in 1998: how the city has changed in that time.
What made you choose the education sector?
I have been involved in education all of my life and was a Head Teacher in the UK before moving to the UAE so this was a natural transition.
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?
We are fortunate that the teacher shortage agenda has not impacted on us with any great significance but we must be mindful that this is an issue in many home curriculum countries. The UAE has an incredibly positive image globally due to its strong education policy and practice driven by the KHDA and the Ministries, but we as school leaders cannot afford to be complacent as shortage subject crisis will reach our shorelines in the future. However, we can mitigate this threat by continuing as a Nation to play a leading and pivotal role in the global education debate.
What are the key milestones in your career so far?
Each and every Headship that has been awarded to me has been a milestone. Every school is a new chapter and being entrusted with this role by Governors, owners, parents and staff is incredibly humbling but also a great privilege that I never take for granted.
What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date - and why?
It would be easy to cite inspection outcomes and school examination results as great achievements which they are of course, but for me it is something a little less tangible: for me it is the knowledge that I have had a personal and positive impact on the lives of 1,000s of young people over the years. Whether this was in challenging schools in the UK or in the wonderful schools in Dubai that I have had the opportunity to work in, that relationship and impact on students and their achievements and my instilling a belief in themselves is something that I am especially proud of. The proof of this is difficult to measure, but perhaps it can be exemplified by the large numbers of former students and families that I remain in close contact with to this day.
Name three things which get you up and motivate you?
That I have one of the most important jobs in the whole world – where else do you get to make such a difference to the lives of today and the leaders of tomorrow?
That I actually really enjoy my job – it is genuinely rewarding and professional and personally rewarding.
That I am incredibly lucky and should therefore live my life to the fullest – my family, my friends and my job all play a part in that happiness as does the privilege of living in Dubai and the UAE.
What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?
Being the Principal of Hartland International School, a brand new school, is a fresh professional challenge and one that I want to be successful at. The success of my school and its students, staff and parents is the best way for me to be further professionally developed and rewarded.
What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success?
I recall a quote from someone who once said, “Great leaders do not set out to be great leaders: they set out to make a difference.” I am not sure if I can call myself a great leader, but I do believe that I have made a difference in a positive way to the lives of others. Whether this is through challenge or support for our students, our staff or our families, the potential impact that we can have on thousands of lives is incredible and one that we should take seriously as our greatest responsibility.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?
Without a doubt it is the privilege of engaging with inquisitive and happy young people every day in a safe and secure school environment. Their enthusiasm and fresh minds keeps you enthralled and in awe of the wonder that is life. Indeed, they are the inspiration for all that we do and where better to work in education than in a city whose vibrancy is synonymous with success.