x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Mentoring programme for Sharjah teachers pays off for all parties

The immersive exercise is repeated weekly as part of a mentoring program between Emirati public school teachers and principals and their peers from the Victoria International School of Sharjah.

Jean McDonald takes a class at Victoria International School of Sharjah as Hani Khalil, a teacher at Sultan Bin Saqr school, takes notes as part of the skills-sharing mentoring programme. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Jean McDonald takes a class at Victoria International School of Sharjah as Hani Khalil, a teacher at Sultan Bin Saqr school, takes notes as part of the skills-sharing mentoring programme. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

SHARJAH // At 35, Emirati teacher Hani Khalil spends most of his days in front of a government school classroom, but this week he found himself learning alongside sixth-graders at an Australian curriculum school.

Everything about his new environment was different from Mr Khalil’s home school, Sultan Bin Saqr. The pupils spoke English, not Arabic. The open-concept classrooms were surrounded by glass walls. Pupils sat in groups around small tables as they pinched and tapped their personal iPads to complete assignments and communicate with each other and their teacher, 56-year-old Jean McDonald.

Mr Khalil took notes and nodded as Mrs McDonald instructed her pupils and demonstrated an online reading programme called myON, which tracks and promotes children’s reading comprehension.

The immersive exercise is repeated once a week for 8 weeks as part of a mentoring programme between Emirati public-school teachers and principals and their peers from the Victoria International School of Sharjah (VISS).

The idea is to promote an exchange of knowledge and practical ideas between the two vastly different academic cultures.

Mr Khalil said the regular visits to VISS had helped introduce him to new concepts as a teacher.

“I’m attending different classes, so I catch some ideas from each,” said Mr Khalil, a sixth-grade special-needs teacher who is working on developing programmes at his school aimed at improving pupils’ reading, writing and maths skills. “You know, more methods of learning, a lot of strategies and how to use the computer. We get better ideas of how to assess the students.”

When it was launched last year, more than 70 Emirati teachers and 50 principals from 50 government primary schools were mentored by VISS staff. The Sharjah Educational Council, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, extended the programme this year to include about 30 teachers and 20 principals from government secondary schools.

“This year, we had a record number of our teachers volunteering to take part in the programme as mentors. Everyone wants to be involved,” said Dr Roderick Crouch, principal at VISS.

Each day of the weekly programme includes classroom observations and specially designed workshops covering a range of topics, including the difference in the learning capabilities of boys and girls, student well-being, best practices and curriculum planning in English, mathematics, science and Arabic, and using technology, Dr Crouch said.

He also leads management training for the principals, where issues such as performance management, teacher appraisal, implementing technology in classrooms and time management are addressed.

An Emirati principal, Bader Al Hosany, said the workshops had introduced him to novel procedures and strategies.

“They have also more experience here,” said Mr Al Hosany, 40.

Another principal, Waleed Nasser, said it was beneficial to see how other schools operate.

“We asked for these kinds of workshops,” Mr Waleed said. “Most of our work is dependent on the zone or the council or the Ministry of Education, but here at an independent school, you have your own way of choosing, deciding, so this was very helpful for us.

“So, we will adapt it in our own way. Dealing with a weak teacher, for example, or student, this will help us. Most of what is mentioned in the programme, we do need in our school, but in a different way. It’s good experience for us to have a workshop in a private school and this was very helpful.

“We have a lot of challenges in school and having more than one point of view is better for us.”

rpennington@thenational.ae