Rebecca, what has been your journey till now?
I trained as a secondary language teacher in the UK and then worked in Dubai at The English College where I taught for 9 years before deciding on a change of career. Having studied with the Chartered Institute of Marketing in 2001 I enjoyed 9 years working in the world of advertising/marketing. This was great professional development in a totally new industry and helped develop my business acumen as well as widen my skill-set.
This wide and varied career experience served me well when I joined British Schools in the Middle East (BSME) for 5 years, developing and leading their Continuing Professional Development programme into a regionally acknowledged, quality-assured programme, offering over 100 courses a year. In 2015, BSME re-located all offices to Bahrain and so it was a ‘Carpe Diem’ moment for my then assistant, now business partner, Paola Wingrove, and I.
We launched Infinite Learning in June 2015 and have not looked back since. Our mission was (and still is) simple - to provide the very best professional learning opportunities for teachers in Dubai, the UAE and beyond! I believe much of our success is down to the personalised, ‘genuine’ service we offer. We constantly strive to provide the best service we can and to meet the needs of schools as closely as possible.
What are the benefits and what are the challenges of being a woman in education?
I’m not sure I see gender necessarily playing a huge role, either positively or negatively, in education in the region. I certainly don’t feel women are at a disadvantage. Traditionally we tend to see more male heads/principals than female (as is the case in most sectors of work!) and statistically this probably still remains true. But I have had the privilege of working with many female Principals, Headteachers, Senior Leaders. They are strong, intuitive, passionate, committed.
Equally, outside of schools themselves, since we started with our company, we have met and worked with so many inspirational female business women.
There are so many female entrepreneurs out there in the field of education. These are often women just like us – with children, homes, husbands all keeping us busy, as well as running our businesses. It must be those ‘multi-tasking’ skills we are so famous for!
It certainly is fantastic to see so many women forging their own path in the education sector, leading the way and making a difference. We are proud to be part of that journey.
What do you love about your role?
By far the most rewarding element, is knowing that we are making a real difference to teaching and learning outcomes in schools. We were shortlisted for the GESS 2017 Start Up Company of the Year. Part of the application process required us to gather testimonials from schools with whom we had worked. What came back was quite literally overwhelming for us.
I think the other things that Paola and I both love is ‘being our own boss’. We make a great team probably because we have the same passion for what we do and importantly because we have the same work ethic – which is basically to work hard! It’s a case of having to when there are just 2 of you in the company, managing all the courses, the marketing, the delegate bookings, the provider flight and accommodation bookings, the post-course on-line surveys, the weekly ‘Heads Up’, the termly newsletter, the website, the invoices, the accounts, the blogs, the Facebook updates and the Tweets!
I love meeting so many new people and learning something new every day – ‘Infinite Learning’ – the learning never stops. There is a new challenge every day, and the hours are long, but the rewards are equally high!
What do you do in your downtime?
I am lucky enough to have several passions. My first is probably singing – in particular Jazz and Big Band music. I am so blessed to be able to sing with the Abu Dhabi Big Band. There is no feeling quite like it in the world – standing on a stage waiting for your entry, when the 20-piece band kicks off! Goosebumps every time!
I absolutely love cooking (and eating!). I am perhaps at my happiest when spending a whole day preparing food for friends and family coming for dinner! I am literally in my element. And I’m pretty passionate about the socializing that comes with it later when all the friends arrive!
Another passion is exercise (just to balance out the love of food!). I did my first sprint triathlon last year and have another one coming up in a few weeks. I just treated myself to a new road bike and did my first 50KM in the desert on Saturday! I can highly recommend it – just stunning as the sun comes up! But it does require a 4.30am alarm clock!
I hope this doesn’t sound too superficial – but I just adore shoes! I have hundreds of pairs – literally! It’s a bit of an obsession and I have had this obsession since I was a little girl! So I guess shopping for shoes is something I like to do in my downtime too. Other than that, of course, it is spending time with my husband and 3 children.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Well at the very least I would hope that we are still doing what we are doing now. Offering great CPD opportunities to teachers and leaders across the region and beyond. I would like to think that we will have expanded upon this strong foundation, both in terms of current service and product offering and also in terms of where we operate and with whom. Dubai is so well situated geographically that going either East or West is a possibility. Indeed we have already tipped our toes into Shanghai waters. Last year I co-facilitated the UCL Institute of Education ‘NPQ [National Professional Qualification] Facilitation Training Programme’ with a view to delivering the NPQ programmes there. We also have a number of pedagogical courses scheduled to run in Shanghai throughout this academic year.
Having said that, the Middle East, The UAE, and Dubai in particular is experiencing such a growth in the education sector right now. I think it’s fair to say that we are keen to expand but there may well be enough growth locally to keep us busy! Additional employees would also be nice at some point!
What advice do you have for young women entering education today?
I think probably the same advice I would give to anyone wanting to succeed. Do your research, plan well, work hard, be prepared to have to change those plans, and above all, (particularly in education), be ‘genuine’. Teachers can see though ‘marketing blurb’ in a second, and they don’t like it! Choose an area about which you are really passionate and to which you are committed.
I loved my time in advertising and marketing and it all seemed very ‘glamorous’ at times but I never experienced the job satisfaction at the level I do now. Nowhere close. Educating our children and young people is so important and knowing that in some small way, we are improving teaching and learning outcomes in schools makes me feel very fulfilled.
Learn every day, be open, not closed. Be inspiring and let yourself be inspired by others. Speak to other women in the industry, take advice, listen and learn. Women have so much to offer the education sector. Know this and don’t sell yourself short. Believe in yourself. Go for it and enjoy it!
What do your children think of their working/multitasking mum?
That’s a really interesting question – and I’m glad you asked it! I think there is often a lot of pressure, particularly in Dubai, for mums (perhaps more than Dads, where it’s ‘a given’ that the Dads work full time) to be there for their children all the time. School drop-offs, school pick-ups, schools shows, sports days, after-school clubs, weekend activities. You hear working mums expressing guilt at the fact that they simply cannot be there all the time, at least during the week, due to work commitments.
I am lucky in that I work from home and can be very flexible with my day, but I still feel the pressure at times and sometimes it feels like you’re not doing anything to the best of your ability because you are being pulled in so many directions.
However, I consider the positives of my children seeing me work hard at something (either work or pleasure related) and succeeding at it, to outweigh the negatives of me not always having as much time for them as I might like. I genuinely think they are proud of what we have achieved – in fact, I know it because they have told me!
Wonderfully, they all share some of my passions too; already Grace (aged 9) loves performing, Archie, (aged 11), is my sous-chef in the kitchen and has a wonderful fascination with food! Jamie (aged 13) is hugely committed to his fitness and regularly comes training with me.
Following your passions, achieving your goals, never giving up on your dreams – these are all such incredibly strong ‘life messages’ and I hope, through ‘working/multitasking’, that I provide a positive role model for my children.
With thanks for wise words and great advice to Rebecca Annand, the first in our Inspirational women in Education Series and Managing Partner of Infinite Learning.