Meet the Principal, Karen McCord, AIS

Meet Karen McCord, the brand-new Executive Principal of the Australian International School Dubai. Karen has recently arrived in Dubai and is raring to get started and begin building a community around Dubai’s first Australian curriculum school.
Meet the Principal, Karen McCord, AIS
By Jenny Mollon
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LET'S GO recently visited the stunning new Australian International School Dubai for a school tour. We also met Executive Principal Karen McCord, who was keen to share her vision and excitement for this new Al Barsha South school.

Karen, what drew you to a career in education?

I always wanted to be a teacher and it is something which runs in the family. Having said that… after my year 12 careers interview, I very nearly went to study law!

My guidance counsellor encouraged me to think about other careers beside teaching and I ended up getting on to a law course. Right before I was due to start, I realised law really wasn’t the career for me...thank goodness! I switched back to an arts degree, which allowed me to dabble in lots of different things and eventually I qualified as a teacher.

For me teaching is a passion. I don’t really believe that you can teach people to teach. Teaching is a calling! You got to love it because it is hard, having kids in front of you for extended periods of time takes a lot of energy. I love working with kids of all ages. No matter what age, they all have that wonderful sense of innocence about them. And as a Principal, if you are having a bad day, there’s nothing better than popping down to see the little ones – they are so funny and will bring you back down to earth pretty quick!

Can you tell us about your career to date?

I have been teaching since 1988, and I started out as a physical education teacher. My first leadership role was as Head of Physical Education in a well-known school in Melbourne. After a stint as a Deputy Principal, I took some time away to have my children. I’m such a workaholic that when I was on maternity leave with my son, my husband said that I needed to stay as far as possible away from school! So, we moved to a house we owned on the Sunshine Coast, mostly to stop me from popping in to school all the time! We loved the slower pace of life – for a while at least, as I was soon offered a local role running the Senior School of a local all through school.

From then on, I become the “fix it girl”! Within six years I led four different schools. They all had different things that needed to be fixed. I quickly learnt that every school has a different context and its about understanding the context and being able to go in and do what needs to be done.

I’ve spent the last seven years in a school in Bundaberg, a fantastic city in Queensland. I loved that school but this very special opportunity in Dubai kept cropping up and eventually I just knew it was meant for me. I have been very lucky indeed!

What about your leadership style, what is it like to work for you?

I call myself a situational leader. I believe leadership is very much about knowing your context and then working out what needs to be done. My greatest love is the fact that I get to grow people! Whether it’s little people or whether its teachers, I just love that part of the role. Ultimately, my job is to support, whether it’s kids, teachers, parents or the wider community, it’s all about support.

What does it mean to you to be opening a school in Dubai, one of the most vibrant education markets in the world?

Well, here I am, it is an amazing place and I think my feet are just about hitting the ground!

This school is going to have incredible facilities and teachers. But for me, there is no difference in whether children are in Australia or Dubai or England…or wherever. Our job as educators is to prepare kids for the global world. The opportunities children have in Dubai are incredible. I’ve already started reaching out to the Australian business community here, and they have been incredibly open and willing to start thinking about supporting us with things like mentoring and careers programmes. That has been brilliant.

Will you still be teaching?

Yes! At a new school everyone has to be multi-talented, and I have said that to everyone I have interviewed. I’ll be teaching Physical Education and it will be a great way to really get to know the students.

How will the school’s curriculum be nuanced for the UAE?

We know that the Australian curriculum works well here, following the success of the Australian International School in Sharjah, our sister school. Australia is a diverse country and the curriculum reflects that. It about skills as much as it is about content. When the owners of the school did their homework about different curricula, they realised just what the Australian curriculum was and it’s been proven to work brilliantly in the UAE context.

Why should families choose your school?

Because we are going to be the best in the world! I have no doubt about that. This will be a school where every kid matters and I am looking forward to starting small and really getting it right from day one. If parents want their kids to thrive and to be entrepreneurial and independent when they leave, then this is exactly the school for them.

Where do you see the school in five years from now?

In five years, I want to see our kids out in the community doing great things! We’ll have a fantastic music programme up and running in that time and the school will be hosting some wonderful musicals, shows and lots of sports events. I expect us to be making ourselves known on the STEM stage too.

But most importantly, I want this school to become a genuine part of the local community and Dubai’s quality education community.

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