GEMS’ education leaders share their New Year wishes, visions and aspirations

There’s nothing like the start of a new year to take some time to reflect and review, improve and inspire. Here, some of our Principals and school leaders look back on 2021 and share what their hopes and wishes are for the year ahead.

Michael Guzder, Vice President – Education

What was one of the best things that happened to you, or your school, in 2021?
My youngest daughter got married and the elder one had a baby.

Describe the past year in three words.
Hope. Family. Vaccinations.

What was the best book you read (or listened to) in 2021?
Success Is Not an Accident by Tommy Newsberry.

What is your word for the year 2022?
Travel (hopefully).

What was the most valuable thing you learned in 2021?
The smallest things can be the deadliest – in particular, Coronavirus.

What do you want to learn in 2022?
To play the ukulele.

What is your New Year’s wish?
To lose weight!

Simon Herbert, Head of School / CEO, GEMS International School – Al Khail

What was one of the best things that happened to you, or your school, in 2021?
At GIS, we were delighted to be commended by the IB Organisation (IBO) for the introduction of our fourth IB Programme, the CP (Career-related Programme). The IBO also commended us, as part of our five-year evaluation report, for ‘The resilience of the teachers and students and their commitment to teaching and learning, even when facing the challenges of the pandemic’.

Describe the past year in three words.
A long haul.

What was the best book you read (or listened to) in 2021?
The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle

What is your word for the year 2022?
Hope.

What was the most valuable thing you learned in 2021?
The power of the community.

What do you want to learn in 2022?
Arabic. I have already started and my Arabic colleagues, and also our Arabic parents, have kindly and generously offered to help me in any way.

What is your New Year’s wish?
That people will see the bigger picture.

Rhea Lawrence, Deputy Head of Secondary, GEMS Westminster School – Ras Al Khaimah

What was one of the best things that happened to you, or your school, in 2021?
In 2019, as a response to the disruption caused by the pandemic and keeping student well-being in mind, we started ‘The Independent Learning Programme’, which was a project-based learning programme that students undertook independently while being mentored by a teacher. This was extremely well-received by students and parents and has now become a part of our curriculum. Some of our Grade 10 students that completed their projects received their Higher Project Qualification for the first time in 2021. This was a proud moment for us as a school and for the children as they turned their interests into an extra qualification.

Describe the past year in three words.
Transformation, awe-inspiring, perseverance.

What was the best book you read (or listened to) in 2021?
The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer.

What is your word for 2022?
Balance.

What was the most valuable thing you learned in 2021?
This year has taught me the importance of mental health, well-being and how easy it is for us to take them for granted. Many of us are suffering in silence and alone, and small random acts of kindness and thoughtfulness can make a world of a difference to another person. This year we have consciously made an effort to plan activities and to encourage students and teachers to talk and think about their mental health. We have prioritised oracy to get students to talk and share their ideas in the classroom to build confidence. A strong community where everyone supports each other is one that grows and makes progress together. We are one tribe, one family.

What do you want to learn in 2022?
I love dancing and I would love to learn the Bachata.

What’s your New Year’s wish?
My goal for next year is to prioritise my health and fitness and encourage everyone around me to do the same.

Rocky Miller, Principal / CEO, Our Own English School – Al Ain

What is one of the best things that happened to you, or your school, in 2021?
My school did outstandingly well in both board exams despite the pandemic’s impact on the children.

Describe the past year in three words.
Adventurous, challenging, engaging.

What was the best book you read (or listened to) in 2021?
The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek.

What’s your word for the year 2022?
Resilience.

What was the most valuable thing you learned in 2021?
Being human at the right time.

What do you want to learn in 2022?
I want to improve my singing skills.

What is your New Year’s wish?
My one wish is that the world gets back on its feet after what it has gone through over the last two years.

Karim Murcia, Principal / CEO, GEMS Al Barsha National School

What was the best thing that happened to you, or your school, in 2021?
The best things in 2021 were coming back to school to give our students a fuller and more normal experience after the recent challenges, as well as swimming again, running ECAs and having our parents on site for National Day and PTCs.

Describe the past year in three words.
Community, courage, agility.

What was the best book you read (or listened to) in 2021?
Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed.

What’s your word for the year 2022?
Optimism.

What was the most valuable thing you learned in 2021?
That our community, including our youngest learners and all our staff members and parents, is able to pull together and demonstrate both the courage and agility to overcome the greatest challenges.

What do you want to learn in 2022?
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

What is your New Year’s wish?
To ensure our school continues to progress on our roadmap to outstanding, providing our students and staff with the safest, happiest and most nurturing environment possible to empower them and enable them to excel.

Tammy Murphy, Superintendent / CEO, GEMS Dubai American Academy and Chief Education Officer

What was one of the best things that happened to you, or your school, in 2021?
DAA had its five-year CIS/ NEASC reaccreditation visit. During our application, we had exceeded over 90% of the standards, so we were selected to take on a new criteria of the rubric entitled Future Aspirations. DAA was one of six schools in the world to be given this honor to further develop and grow best practices for other international schools. In our final report it was indicated that in the area of technology infrastructure and data systems to support the school’s teaching, learning and managerial needs, “the school is shaping international best practice in this regard, the school’s practice goes beyond the CIS future aspirations strand in Domain G Standard 2-ii.” The DAA learning community was humbled by this honor and it further motivated us on our journey to excellence.

Describe the past year in three words.
Inspired, Individualized, Interconnected.

What was the best book you read (or listened to) in 2021?
The Fearless Organization by Amy C. Edmonson.

What’s your word for the year 2022?
Persistence.

What was the most valuable thing you learned in 2021?
The collective power and impact of a group of dedicated professionals.

What do you want to learn in 2022?
Transcendental meditation.

What is your New Year’s wish?
My intention for the new year is to continue learning. Through learning we grow, and through growth, we’re more likely to succeed.

Robert Rinaldo, Head of School, GEMS American Academy – Abu Dhabi

What was one of the best things that happened to you, or your school, in 2021?
Almost 100 per cent of our students coming back on campus, giving us a chance to connect with kids face-to-face again. We began to see more student activities and improved student wellness.

Describe the past year in three words.
Challenging, fulfilling, hopeful.

What was the best book you read (or listened to) in 2021?
What School Could Be by Ted Dintersmith.

What’s your word for the year 2022?
Purposeful.

What was the most valuable thing you learned in 2021?
With change comes great opportunity.

What do you want to learn in 2022?
Professionally, I want to implement a shared methodology for entrepreneurial education – teaching and learning that adds value. And on the personal front, I want to develop a more consistent golf swing with more power.

What is your New Year’s wish?
More empathy, and to continue to strengthen our school community to a point where we all assume good intentions and support each other.