Ms Sasha Crabb, winner of the SchoolsCompared.com 2019 Principal of the Year Award and founding Principal of Victory Heights Primary School (VHPS), talks to us about her career and life as a leader in education for the next in our series of Inspiring Women in Education.
Passionate, funny and highly ambitious for her school and her team, Ms Crabb is an exceptional school leader in every way...
My Year 2 teacher was the first teacher that I remember really getting behind me and encouraging me. She loved my story writing and helped me to understand the value of imagination and creativity, something I try to do with the students at Victory Heights Primary School today. She entered me in writing competitions which really boosted my confidence too.
As a teenager, I didn’t perform well in my A Levels and if I’m honest, that’s something that still bothers me to this day. I managed to bounce back from the disappointment, but I think this is one of the reasons I am passionate about helping children of all abilities to achieve. I don’t think anyone would have predicted I would be a school Principal looking at where I was when I was 18, but here I am!
I went to Chester University in the UK and studied for a B’Ed in Drama and Technology (and this was back in the days when technology didn’t mean computing…we actually used to have to make stuff!).
After graduating, I went to work in a school in the Welsh valleys, which was very interesting…mostly because I had to learn Welsh. Sadly, most of that vocabulary has gone now, but I can still do a great Welsh accent when I need it!
Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, but that experience has been so useful in delivering the Arabic curriculum here – the principles are very similar... trying to teach a language to a community that doesn’t use it outside of school.
After two years in the classroom I was approached to become a Literacy Adviser. I was very passionate about the speaking and listening part of the National Curriculum and that seemed to get me noticed in my day to day work. Before I knew it, I was standing in front of secondary teachers training them on how to use speaking and listening strategies in their classrooms.
My next stop was an overseas adventure. I went to teach in a British School in Cairo. I had absolutely no idea about international teaching back then, so I am glad that a really good school took me on and taught me the ropes. I stayed there for five years and was eventually promoted to Deputy Head.
Back in the UK, I had a great experience working in a school in “special measures”, which needed to be turned around. It was amazing to draw upon the support of so many renowned experts and the school improved quickly.
Then, after a stint as a Deputy Head in a prep school, I was invited back to my old school in Cairo as Key Stage 1 leader.
Out of the blue someone I had met along the way phoned me up about this job. The school didn't even have a name yet, so I have been on board from the very beginning. It's been great to see the school go from nothing to the fantastic place it is today.
You know, I was grateful that you sent me this question to think about beforehand! I thought long and hard about it. You know what I think the answer is? As a woman, your passion can often be misinterpreted as emotion. When I am really passionate about a topic, my body language changes. Years ago a colleague took me to one side and told me not to flare my nostrils in meetings…I mean come on! That passion is still the fire in my belly, but as I have got older I have been able to channel my emotions better. It’s wonderful getting older…in so many ways!
I don’t class myself as ‘academic’, especially since the awful experience with my A Levels, but I do know I have emotional intelligence. I’m a big believer that you can have as many qualifications as you like, but if you haven’t got that emotional intelligence to reflect on yourself, it’s a problem. I have seen a lot of academics who are not able to reflect and I think “well, how are you ever going to move people on, give your team the support they need?”
When I drive home at night I’m usually thinking “that person looked a bit down today, I must message them later” or something along those lines. I’m thinking about how my team are feeling. I’m very reflective about my own performance too. That is a strength. I don’t know whether that is because I am a woman, but it definitely helps.
I think the first school that I worked in changed my outlook, definitely. After qualifying, I did some supply work and it helped me to get an idea of what kind of school I would like to be in (and the ones I wouldn’t – CRIKEY I saw some things!).
The school where I ended up getting my first permanent job was fantastic, they saw something in me and invested in me. They gave me so many opportunities. I was probably pretty quirky to them – a brown skinned woman with my big London accent, working in the valleys of Wales! But when people believe in you and give you the freedom to flourish...they can really unlock your passion. That is what that school did for me and I hope that is what I do with the team here.
I was always ambitious in the sense that I wanted to do everything. EVERYTHING! I wanted to be the best class teacher I could possibly be, but I also wanted to take on responsibility too. I like responsibility and with age, I have grown to not be afraid of making tough decisions.
What I say to younger teachers is to remember the bread and butter! By that I mean to focus on the core, on what’s really important and to... s l o w d o w n ! Kids need knowledge and boundaries as well as skills. At VHPS we say that teaching is 80% bread and butter, 20% fish and chips! Everyone knows I talk about method in the madness (and if I ever write a book, that will be the title!) and this is what I mean.
This generation of teachers also have the growing challenge of young children entering school having been impacted by overuse of technology. I have seen a huge shift in the skills that young children enter school with, and that is beginning to impact Year 1. It's a challenge we need to face head on.
There is an amazing network of School Principals in Dubai. Because we are a standalone school, (and before our kids had access to secondary at South View School) I had to network with the secondary schools to make sure our kids could get the places they wanted.
Now we have all these great schools like JESS, DC, DESC…they want our kids. Our academic brand is secure! But to get to this point I had to work very closely with other Principals. Andy Gibbs at Dubai English Speaking College and Zara Harrington at Safa British School have both been an amazing source of support. Fiona Cottam (of Hartland International School) and I often talk budgets together! I’d like to think I could do the same now for new Principals, I am definitely open to that.
Read more interviews from the Inspiring Women in Education series: