We chat to the newly-appointed principal of GEMS Cambridge International Private School Sharjah (GCS), due to open in September 2019, about approaching her role and her vision for the school.
Tell us about your background in education.
My career started 24 years ago in South Africa. I come from a very rural area and we built the first school I worked at ourselves. On Saturdays, we would go into the community to give extra English lessons. Later, I moved with my husband to the UK, and for most of my teaching career I was in London. I taught in tough schools but I was drawn to the chance to mean something to somebody. In some cases, a teacher
was the only stability in a child’s life.
We stayed there for 12 years and it was amazing. I built genuine relationships with the students and it was wonderful to see how they came through the school. Many of them went to university and in many cases, they were the first in their families. It was rewarding to see how attending that school changed their lives.
Five years ago, we moved to the UAE. I had a Skype interview with the founding principal of Cambridge International School — Dubai (CIS) and knew straight away that we had the same vision. I joined in the second year of GEMS Cambridge International School — Abu Dhabi (CIA). At the end of the first year they had 1,300 students, and we opened in the September that I joined with 2,600.
How are you going to approach your role as a principal of a new school?
I’m so excited about this opportunity at GEMS Cambridge International Private School Sharjah (GCS), because we’re using the best from the GEMS Cambridge schools. I’ve learned so much and I hope to use this expertise to make our school even better. We also have the support from our other Cambridge colleagues; they all bring their own ideas and I can bring my ideas to make this school something special.
When the children come to our school, I want them to feel that it is a safe place where everyone is happy. While our GCSE results matter, they’re not the sole focus. As a teacher you need to be the best you can be while helping students achieve the highest grade possible and have the most opportunities possible. But it’s also about how we make our students feel and how we make our parents feel when they come into the school. I hope that when people come into our school they see that while we have very high aspirations and great facilities, this is a place where people matter. We hope that our school will be unique.
What developments would you like to see in the education sector, particularly for teachers?
I think teaching is not just a job, it’s a passion. I want to make sure that our teachers feel valued and that we are supporting them. There are amazing opportunities through TELLAL and through our own network. A wonderful thing about GEMS is that the principals have empathy for one another, and they support one another; we can draw on expertise from around us so that we develop our own teachers to become the best practitioners they can be.
I think teachers are so used to giving of themselves. We want to give back to them so they also feel that they are developed, they are valued, and that we appreciate what they do.
Who inspires you?
Strong women that are still kind and considerate. There are many times when as women we think it’s expected of us to be without any feelings or emotions because we must survive in the man’s world. You can still be strong, you can still be assertive, but you don’t have to be nasty. That’s how I want to encourage the girls in our school.
I was really inspired by the founding principal of the academy where I taught in London. She was always calm, she was always considerate, and she was always extremely professional. Only when she retired did I realise what an amazing woman she was. When we went to meetings it was as if people flocked to her. It’s not that she was particularly dynamic, it was just her presence. That is what I aspire to be.