When we arrive at the education council headquarters in Al Ain, we are ushered into a small brown auditorium with blue theater rows layering down toward the small stage. Most of us make our way down the two side aisles and find our places before realizing that we could use a restroom break after our hour and a half (+) ride. Then 2 or 3 at a time begin trickling out. We aren’t the only ones in attendance, however.
Principals, Heads of Faculty (or HOFs as they are called), and other school representatives have been awaiting our arrival, having expected us an hour and a half earlier. These folks are eager to grab their new hires for a trip to their schools where tours and introductions are pending. Our sudden exits to the restrooms are less than welcome but understandable. Finally, we are all assembled and ready to learn our assignments. Until now, we were only informed about our general location: Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, or Al Gharbia.
For those assigned to Abu Dhabi (a few who were not included on this excursion), daily access to the beach and at least eight shopping malls is a life many would envy. Car enthusiasts won’t want to miss the World’s Largest Car Parade on National Day (this Sunday) or the annual Formula One racing event that fills up area hotels. And, did I mention Ferrari World? Just a little Ferrari-themed Theme Park with the fastest roller coaster in the world. This is a modern city with all the luxuries expats are accustomed to set within a conservative culture. Don’t let the kandoras, the abayas, the five prayer calls a day, or the laws regarding alcohol and fornication scare you. You will actually discover early on that you feel safer here than in any other place in the world, including your own backyard, likely due to these unique customs.
A handful of the entire group are assigned to Al Gharbia, the western and largest region of Abu Dhabi. Some consider this no-man’s land but other’s relish in the opportunities to experience desert safari’s, dune bashing, desert camping, and balloon expeditions. Those who embrace this location can’t resist a visit to Liwa, an oasis town surrounded by waves and waves of sand. I understand one can also experience their first camel beauty contest here as well.
For us, our future lies in Al Ain, the Garden City. Not one person has complained or expressed anything but raves about life in this family friendly community, which is just about equal distance from Abu Dhabi to the west and Dubai to the east.
It’s exciting to hear the assignments and see the teachers exit for their schools. They realize the principals have not been given their assignments and someone from HR comes up to the stage. My prayers have been answered!!! Just a couple of days prior, I e-mailed one of the ladies who spoke at our orientation expressing my desire to lead a Kg (kindergarten) or Cycle 1 (1st-5th) girls school. I am assigned to Al Nakheel, a Kg school!!
The principals, then, go to meet with their Cluster Managers (CMs). The CMs work with and evaluate principals. The Heads of Faculty are evaluated by the CMs and the principals. Teachers are evaluated by all of the above.
My CM, Jeanna (not her real name), is British. She has been working here for three years. She and her family plan to eventually move to Australia, where her in-laws live. We sit in her “available” office for the next couple of hours. As a CM, Jeanna services eight schools and is never in the office. In addition to working with the principals to implement the new school model, she observes teachers / classrooms along with the principals and HOFs. She is very familiar with my school and faculty, having previously worked with some of the teachers who are in the new building (3 years old). This year she began servicing Al Nakheel and has observed the school routines and instruction more than once since school began in September.
I learned that I have two HOFs, one Western one Emirate. My VP, who I believe is Emirate, is on maternity leave and just began at this school three weeks before her leave. My fortune is that I have the rest of the year to observe and formulate a strategic plan since my school is not on the list of schools going through external inspection this year. School begins at 8am, ends at 12:15, and teachers participate in PD / planning until 1:30 Sunday – Wednesday. Teachers are expected to be at school at 7:30am. Each day begins with a 15-minute assembly.
My priorities will include the following:
1. develop relationships with faculty, students and parents
2. collectively establish professional norms and expectations
3. develop school-wide mission, vision, values and goals
4. use the ADEC (district) New School Model and the ERTICA (evaluation) to begin the formation of a Professional Learning Community
This list should keep me busy for the next three years, as I navigate my way through cultural and language differences.