Future School Leaders: Ashley Fitzgibbons

With World Teacher’s Day falling on 5th October, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com will this week celebrate the hard work, expertise and ambition of a group of rising stars: our UAE Future Education Leaders.
This article is part of an editorial series on Future School Leaders
Future School Leaders
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Future School Leaders
This article is part of an editorial series on Future School Leaders

For this week long feature, we asked UAE schools to nominate a teacher “on the trajectory” to school leadership. We sat down with our team of Future Leaders to discuss their careers, teaching in the UAE and how they see the UAE education sector evolving to meet the needs of students today and in the future.

In this series of interviews will feature one teacher each day this week. We being  with Ashley Fitzgibbons, Grade 7 Co-ordinator at Swiss International Scientific School, Dubai (SISD).

Ashley, would you tell us a little more about your current role at SISD?

I am primarily a Business Studies teacher, but in my co-ordinator role I look after the pastoral care of all of our Grade 7 students. This includes things like their personal, social and emotional care as well as more practical things like their organisational skills, because, let’s face it, they’re teenagers!

Why do you think you were nominated as a future leader by your school?

[Ashley laughs!] I don’t know! No really, I suppose it is because they know I am ambitious, that’s it. The opportunities for career development here at SISD are just amazing and I have made it very clear from the start that I want to progress. Thankfully, I am in a school where I am surrounded by leaders who acknowledge and support my ambitions.

Ashleigh in action with her students

The other factor is that I teach Business and have a degree in Commerce from the University College, Cork in Ireland [Ashley also has a Postgraduate Diploma in Education and a Degree in Mathematics]. I always say that teaching Business marries my two loves together, and in a way, these two passions make school leadership a natural progression for me. I’m teaching the students about leadership and management and I love it, so it’s natural for me to want my career to develop in this way.

Why did you choose to teach in the UAE?

I’m from Ireland, a country where we have a fantastic education system but one which lacks the opportunities for quick career progression in teaching. That was a key thing for me. I am now in a Middle Leadership role here which realistically, I probably wouldn’t get until someone retired back home! [Ashley laughs again!].  I know what that sounds like, but it’s a simple fact, things move faster here!

I had a good friend who had spent five years teaching in Abu Dhabi.  She told me that if I wanted to develop my career, the UAE was where I needed to be. I like that my teaching colleagues here tend to be ambitious and have fantastic drive. I think it helps elevate quality when you work with colleagues with similar goals and ideas.

The other thing for me has been the exposure to other curricula. In Ireland, we have the Irish curriculum and that is that! There are only five or six IB (International Baccalaureate) schools in Ireland. Since being here, I have experienced the American curriculum [in the first school UAE school Ashley worked in] and now the IB curriculum. You are being exposed to new things all the time.

Outside of school, I love the opportunities to travel and to experience a new culture. If there’s one thing I always stress to our students it’s to travel and to see the world, to expand their minds!

Do you think that teaching the UAE has perhaps changed the direction of your career?

I definitely feel it has, but I think that has been mostly due to SISD. In this school, they really do support you if they see that you have the potential and ambition for development. I have been offered so many training and development opportunities here, it’s unbelievable really.

A Business studies lesson led by Ashleigh at Swiss International Scientific School

Last year when I was still new to the school, they saw that I was open to learning new things and, as we are currently seeking BTEC accreditation, the school leaders sent me on BTEC training. I was only in the door a month and they were offering me such incredible opportunities.

We are also an IB Career Programme candidate school, which will involve BTEC, so I have been on training for that too. I would never get that opportunity elsewhere.

How do you see UAE education changing in the next 10 years?

I think that because the education scene has become more competitive with so many new schools, this will naturally drive up the quality of education. I’m impressed with KHDA initiatives such as encouraging Emirati students to move to 'Good' rated schools. Ideas like that that will put the right kind of pressure on schools to increase the quality of education that they are offering. I think that in the future, the quality of education here is going to be very, very high indeed.

More teachers than ever now want to come to the country. The UAE is such an attractive place for teachers, the schools are able to be very selective about which teachers they are going to hire. It’s a competitive market for teachers seeking work, meaning that schools can hire the best quality staff.

When you think about it, this is only the 48th year of the UAE! Who knows what is next…think about how far things have come to date. I mean, look at the schools that are being built here! Our campus at SISD is just incredible, we are so fortunate to have these resources.

What changes do you predict in your teaching specialism, Business Studies?

Definitely there will be more vocational programmes. Our students are changing. They don’t want to be in a classroom all the time. They want practical experience. The IB Curriculum is brilliant for enquiry based learning, but I think that BTEC offers so much too. For example, we are considering offering Hospitality Management, Business and more for BTEC. It just broadens the student’s horizons so much. That that is where education is going.

Ashley, last question, what do you think is different for your generation of teachers?

Well, I definitely don’t think we are better than the previous generation of teachers! I had amazing teachers when I was in school. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. I think what is different for us is the kids. It’s not the teachers, it’s the students who have changed and we have had to adapt to them. Their world is so different! Technology has changed everything, they have access to so much information, so many opportunities and really high expectations for their lives and careers.

We have to adapt to these changed circumstances, and to this changing world. But we teachers who are in schools today, well, we have our own teachers to thank for getting us for this day.

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