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Obstacles to School Reform: Understanding School Improvement in a UAE International School

  • Australian College of Researchers


Abstract- This research paper reports on data from an International School in Abu Dhabi that has been engaged in the initial stages of school improvement. Using a constructivist grounded theory design, qualitative and quantitative data were employed to investigate the school’s climate and its capacity for change. Applying Schiemann’s ‘People Equity’ framework (2009), data were collected about the level of staff’s Alignment, Capability and Engagement (ACE). The Principal was interviewed about his understandings and expectations for school reform and teacher development, and site-based data about staff and student outcomes was drawn from the school.
© 2019. Dr. Jake Madden. This is a research/review paper, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-
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Linguistics & Education
Volume 19 Issue 11 Version 1.0 Year 2019
Type: Double Blind Peer Reviewed International Research Journal
Publisher: Global Journals
Online ISSN: 2249-460x & Print ISSN: 0975-587X
Obstacles to School Reform: Understanding School Improvement in a
UAE International School
By Dr. Jake Madden
Abstract- This research paper reports on data from an International School in Abu Dhabi that has
been engaged in the initial stages of school improvement. Using a constructivist grounded
theory design, qualitative and quantitative data were employed to investigate the school’s climate
and its capacity for change. Applying Schiemann’s ‘People Equity’ framework (2009), data were
collected about the level of staff’s Alignment, Capability and Engagement (ACE). The Principal
was interviewed about his understandings and expectations for school reform and teacher
development, and site-based data about staff and student outcomes was drawn from the school.
Keywords: school improvement; school climate, leadership.
GJHSS-G Classification: FOR Code: 139999
Strictly as per the compliance and regulations of:
Obstacles to School Reform: Understanding
School Improvement in a UAE International
Dr. Jake Madden
This research paper reports on data from an
International School in Abu Dhabi that has been engaged
the initial stages of school improvement. Using a constructivist
grounded theory design, qualitative and quantitative data were
employed to investigate the school’s climate and its capacity
for change. Applying Schiemann’s ‘People Equity’ framework
(2009), data were collected about the level of staff’s
Alignment, Capability and Engagement (ACE).
The Principal
was interviewed about his understandings and expectations
for school reform and teacher development, and site-based
data about staff and student outcomes was drawn from the
school. Initial findings show the distinctive dynamics
experienced by this school in its journey to improve the quality
of teaching and learning. These include: the ways in which the
Principal has needed to address the school’s specific contexts
ahead of school reform; the cultural, linguistic and pedagogic
diversity of the staff; the need for greater professionalism; and
the idiosyncratic nature of the national regulatory
requirements. In the current educational climate of an
imperative for improved teaching and learning, the research
highlights this school’s distinct differences based on cultural
and systemic variations as well as its similarities with other
schools seeking such improvements.
With limited data
available on Middle Eastern International Schools engaging in
change journeys, this paper provides a valuable perspective
on the challenges and opportunities for school reform in these
school improvement; school climate,
his paper provides insights into one International
School in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates,
and what data from that school indicates are some
key elements for preparing staff for school improvement.
Using constructivist grounded theory to frame the
analysis of an interview with the school’s Principal, this
paper notes his understandings of the contexts that
underpin the school’s climate. The school’s specific
dynamics further complicate the already challenging
processes of school reform. The paper
presents a
review of the literature, providing a case for the current
imperatives for school improvement and the known
barriers to that process. It also outlines the challenges
that research has shown are faced by principals of
International Schools, and some of the inherent
problems for schools in the Middle East.
II. The Research
This research paper is based on two sets of
data drawn from the International School: qualitative
survey data and demographic information, and a
quantitative interview with the Principal. The first set of
data was a survey from both the Principal and the
school’s staff. Based on the work by Schiemann (2009)
on ‘People Equity’ and “optimising talent” (pp 208-209),
the survey was designed to assess the staff’s level of
Alignment, Capability, and Engagement (ACE; more on
this shortly). Additional contextual information was
garnered from the school, which noted its similarities
and differences with other Middle Eastern and
International Schools. The second set of data was a
semi-structured audio-recorded and transcribed
qualitative interview with the school Principal about his
understandings and expectations about school
improvement, his intentions for developing the teachers
in the school and the barriers and challenges he was
facing in these processes.
The survey data, based on ACE factors
(Schiemann, 2009), was gathered and statistically
analysed as part of a broader research project with
multiple schools across three countries (n=7). It was
designed to provide relevant information for school
principals for decision-making processes about school
readiness for improvement, and provided each school
with a report summarising that information. From the
survey data, and employing a ‘traffic light’ system, the
report indicated how the individual schools rated, along
with comparative data from ‘similar’ schools and ‘all
participating schools’ in the project. It noted for the
principals the areas in which their school ranking was
more than one standard deviation above or below that
of all the schools participating in the project. The report
noted areas of success and areas for potential
improvement across the survey questions and, because
the principal had also completed the survey, it noted the
variances between how the aggregate of the staff
responded as opposed to how the principal responded
on each of the three areas of Alignment, Capability and
Engagement. It also provided demographic information
Author: Al Yasat Private School Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.
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about the staff (e.g. gender, teaching experience, age,
role/s within the school, qualifications, and areas of prior
professional development).
The principal of this Abu Dhabi International
School was interviewed to determine his broader
understandings about the school climate, the level of
preparedness of his staff for school improvement
phases, what he expected to achieve through that
transformation, and the challenges he was able to
anticipate might occur. The transcript of the interview
was analysed using a constructivist grounded theory
methodology (Charmez, 2002; Corbin and Strauss,
1990; Mills et al., 2006; Strauss and Corbin, 1998;
1999). The interview data in the form of transcription was
member checked (Creswell, 2004) with the participant
for clarification and further commentary. The analysis
revealed more detailed understandings about the
context of the school and the issues faced in preparing
the staff for school improvement. It noted the school-
specific dynamics that presented additional challenges
for the Principal.
III. Education in the Middle East
The growth of school education in the Gulf
Cooperation Council (GCC) region began with the
discovery of oil in the 1950s. During this time, the rapid
economic and social development across the region
necessitated the employment of large numbers of
expatriate workers. Many of these workers brought their
families and children with them. Reflecting the
educational needs of these expatriate families, there
was a demand for private schools to offer a variety of
international curriculaincluding curricula from the
United Kingdom (UK), the United States (US), India, and
other places in addition to the Arabic-medium
curriculum taught in public schools.
However, the rapid increase in schooling
options had seen an increase in school diversity and
presented some challenges for governments and
education agencies. Kamel (2014) notes the three key
challenges facing the Middle East:
1. An increase in education inconsistency within the
countries of the Middle East;
2. A marked decrease in the quality of student learning
despite an increase in per capita education
expenditure; and
3. A mismatch and growing divide between market
needs in terms of capacity in skills and what the
education system has to offer in terms of output
(Kamel, 2014, p. 100).
Kamel’s findings are drawn from various
educational agencies’ statistical data that the school
systems in the Middle East and North Africa Region
(MENA). These indicate that the schools are generally of
low quality, and key international student test measures
(i.e. PISA, TIMMS) highlight that basic skills are not
being learnt by students in the MENA region (Gatti et
al., 2013). Additionally, UAE students scored below
average in PISA testing in 2012 and the UAE was ranked
48th in mathematics, 44th in reading and 46th in science
out of 65 participating Organisation for Economic Co-
operation and Development (OECD) countries. In the
last round of TIMMS, the UAE ranked below the
Alayan, Rhode and Dhouib (2012) note that in
the Middle East, traditional education models can no
longer stay abreast with fast modernization resulting
from successive technological advances, and there is
an impact of the information revolution and social media
on character formation. Such analysis has seen the
development of an ambitious UAE 2021 Education
Over the past three decades the expatriate
population explosion and the need for schooling has
seen a growing number of investors into the school
market in the UAE. In 2015 the International Schools
Consultancy (ISC)
for the country to activate education in helping to
establish a knowledge-based society.
With the substantial growth in building of new
schools in the UAE, ISC Research
listed the UAE has having 507
International Schools. The dominance of the private
education market and the presence of its for-profit
providers raises questions about educational access
and equity, particularly for middle and low-income
expatriate families who do not have access to public
Given the research indicates that staff turnover
in International Schools is between 20-25% the
recruitment of quality staff is a major challenge (Preetika
and Priti, 2013). Attracting and then retaining quality staff
in itself is a problematic issue for all schools. While
many factors contribute to teacher turnover, the disparity
in teacher remuneration and the government control on
private school fees are key contributors to teacher
turnover, as highlighted in a 2015 report by Ardent
Advisory and Accounting
predicts that, by
2020, there will be a need for 503,000 full time teachers.
If International School standards are to continue, this will
require the employment of teachers who have the skills
and experience to teach the globally recognized
curricula such as the National Curriculum of England,
the International Baccalaureate and an American
educati on-system
2 (
. Furthermore, Kamel (2014)
claims that, as the UAE government revise existing
regulations and educational requirements for schools
and teachers, education providers are finding it harder
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to attract quality teachers due to complicated
regulations, licensing and educational requirements set
by government entities.
IV. Uae School Context
With almost 90% of schools belonging to the
private sector, Dubai established the Knowledge and
Human Development Authority (KHDA) in 2007 to
oversee growth, quality and direction of private
education in Dubai (Thacker and Cuadra, 2014) while
Abu Dhabi instituted the Abu Dhabi Department of
Education and Knowledge (ADEK)5
Currently, only 20% of the schools are “national”
schools that operate using the national UAE curriculum,
although all schools are mandated to teach the Arabic
and Islamic curriculum as the minimal foundation. Within
the UAE there are currently 15 different international
, including Indian, English National, French,
German, Canadian, American, Australian, and
International Baccalaureate.
The school at the centre of this study is one of
the new private schools to be established by the private
sector. Situated in a growing area of Al Shamkha, Abu
Dhabi, the K-12 school was re-established in 2014, and
opened with an initial enrolment of 277 K-6 students.
Since then it has steadily grown into a fully-fledged K-11
school with more than 1175 enrolled students. Currently
Emirati students account for 90% of the student
population with the remaining 10% and being expatriate,
although of predominately Arab descent.
Since its inception, the school has grown its
leadership team and there have been leadership
changes since opening. The teaching staff is currently a
mixture of predominately Arabic only speaking staff
(20%), English only speaking staff (30%) and bilingual
speaking staff (50%). As reported by Madden (2014) the
focus on building teacher capacity centers on
addressing the challenges of staff diversity.
Notwithstanding these dynamics, the ability to
engage parents as partners in learning does involve
cultural challenges. It is considered that "Many schools
fail to engage Emirati parents appropriately and use
communication channels that do not take cultural
considerations into account, such as when a phone call
is more appropriate than written communication" (Al
Sumaiti, 2012, p. p.1).
Thus, the specific contexts and dynamics
evident in this International School compound the
challenges faced by the school’s Principal in his efforts
to prepare for and facilitate school improvement.
6 KHDA, 2015, Inspection of Private Schools 2013-2014 Key Findings
retriev edfrom
V. Literature Review
This review of the academic literature focuses
on three of the broader elements of school reform that
relate to this paper:
The role of the principal in school improvement, with
a particular focus on ‘readiness’ and capacity for
The role of the principal in school improvement;
And the role of the school climate in school
While there is an obvious interconnection
between these three elements, the literature about how
that relationship happens, and how it is then related to
school improvement, will be noted.
Reform of national education systems has been
at the forefront of discussions for governments and
education departments in countries around the world.
This global educational reform movement (Sahlberg,
2011) has been gathering momentum since the early
1980s and has focussed attention on many aspects of
educational practice. These foci include, but are not
limited to: school leadership; principal characteristics;
elements of quality teaching; professional learning for
teachers; personalisation and differentiation of teaching;
embedding ICT into teacher practice; “21st century
teaching”; raising educational standards; and many
more (Cheng, 2009; Dondero, 1997; Fullan, 2014;
Hargreaves and Evans, 1997; Hargreaves and Fullan,
2012; Masters, 2014). Claiming a direct correlation
between high levels of educational achievement and
national economic success, governments, and
subsequently education systems, are continuing to cast
their attention to what is happening in schools across
the world (Masters, 2014; McMahon, 2011). Middle
Eastern nations are not exempt from this focus as they
too are seeking national financial and economic
excellence as well as educational success for their
students (Purinton and El Sawy, 2012).
The educational literature attests to the
imperatives of school improvement and increasing
student achievement. The professional journals abound
with research about how schools, teachers, education
systems can achieve improvements in student learning.
Hattie’s (2009) work has affirmed the numerous factors
that influence whether and to what degree a schoolits
staff, parent community, students and the principalcan
achieve ‘improvement’. Acknowledging that references
to ‘school improvement’ frequently implies that the
learning outcome of students will be increased,
expanded, augmented, or in some way be better than it
was previously, any kind of school improvement is both
nebulous in what it looks like, and difficult to achieve
(Alayan et al., 2012). When the measure of
‘improvement’ is student learning outcomes, then there
is the range of student tests that can be used to
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determine that measurement (Leithwood et al., 2004).
When ‘improvement’ refers to the nature of the school
‘climate’, then there are likewise surveys, tools and
instruments that can ‘measure’ and evaluate a school’s
climate (Al Makadma and Ramisetty-Mikler, 2015;
Alborno and Gaad, 2014; Liu et al., 2014; Thapa et al.,
2013). Likewise if the leadership of the principal is the
mechanism through which these achievements can be
realised, then there is ample research literature around
principal behaviour, characteristics and leadership, and
their co-relationship (Du Four and Marzano, 2011;
Fullan, 2014; Hallinger, 2014; Hitt and Tucker, 2015;
Leith wood et al., 2004; Litz, 2014; Preetika and Priti,
2013; Wang et al., 2015). Similarly, if the focus for the
improvement is on what teachers do their pedagogy
and practices then there are a myriad of research
studies that have, and are, investigating changes in
what teachers do to bring about learning improvements
(McLeod and Reynolds, 2007; Murray, 2012; Niemi et
al., 2012).
What is pertinent to this paper is that school
principals are increasingly implicated in the imperative
for school reform. This expectation, though, is further
complicated and compounded by the specific dynamics
of International Schools such as the one in the UAE,
which is the focus of this study.
The following three sections focus more closely
on the literature about the role of Principals and school
readiness and capability for change, the role of the
school principal in school improvement, and school
climate and its relationship with school improvement.
School Improvement: Readiness and
Since 2009 when Hattie (2009) released his
synthesis of meta-analyses of ‘what works’ in education,
noting for readers the ‘achievement effects’ of a range
of factors that play a major role in contributing to student
learning, there has been increased attention on what
happens in schools. Hattie noted six key contributors to
student learning achievement: home, student, school,
teacher, teaching and curricula (Hattie, 2009, p. 19). Of
these six, his meta-analyses of research showed that the
teacher and the teaching play pivotal roles in student
learning outcomes. Coming at a time when educational
reform was already in full swing and the quality of
teaching and learning activities was under the spotlight,
Hattie’s findings (2009) added weight to the imperative
for teachers to focus on pedagogy and practice
(Dinham, Feb 28th 2013). This pressure then transfers to
the stakeholders: not only teachers, but also principals,
education systems, support mechanism, professional
literature and research alike (Du Four and Marzano,
2011; Fullan, 2014), and has been disparately applied
and enacted across the world (Sahlberg, 2011). As an
inherent part of the global educational reform
movement, quality of pedagogy and practice, in tandem
with professional learning and the professionalisation of
teachers and teaching has received much attention
(Johnston, 2015). Principals are currently expected to
focus on developing their staff in whatever ways are
necessary to achieve school improvement (Darling-
Hammond and Lieberman, 2012).
In tandem with this imperative for principals to
ensure their teachers are developing and improving
student learning outcomes is the notion of “people
equity” (Schiemann, 2009) that has been adapted and,
in this instance, applied to educational contexts. Taken
from the field of human resources and considering
people as both a valuable resource and a talent,
Schiemann (2009) developed the construct of “people
equity” as a framework to maximise and mange staff
talent through enabling the performance and the growth
of employees. In summary, the framework focuses on
three elements of staff capabilities. These include staff’s:
1. Alignment to the organisation’s focus, which
“implies that from top to bottom everything is
connected in the most effective and efficient way
possible so that there is maximal output using the
least amount of input” (p.105);
2. Capabilities, being “the skills, technology and
processes needed to deliver successful products
and services to customers” (p.129); and
3. Engagement being a combination of worker
satisfaction (organisational, job, fair treatment and
low stress) commitment (to the company’s mission,
proud to be a member, and able to identify with the
organisation’s values and beliefs) and advocacy
(willingness to put in extra effort, to recommend
friends to join, and customers to use) (Schiemann,
2009, p. p.155).
It was Schiemann’s (2009) framework for
“people equity” that led to the development of a survey
instrument to assess teachers’ capacity and readiness
for change. The survey was designed to give principals
an indication of how their staff, individually and
collectively, perceived the school environment. From the
receipt of the information drawn from the survey results,
principals were more informed about their staff’s
understandings, readiness and capacity to for change.
In light of the imperative for school improvement, it is
claimed that this kind of information is foundational for
forward movement in the school improvement agenda
(Fullan, 2014).
VII. The School Principal and School
The second area of literature that is overviewed
here is that of the role of the school principal in
facilitation of school improvement. As already noted,
much of the responsibility for ensuring that schools are
being seen to reform, and improve their students’
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learning outcomes, falls to the principal. There is no
shortage of research literature about many areas of
principal ship, including:
The nature of school leadership (Fullan, 2014; Urick
and Bowers, 2014);
Principal and leadership characteristics that are
aligned with student achievement (Hallinger, 2014;
Hitt and Tucker, 2015);
The imperative for ensuring teachers are
professionally developed (New South Wales
Department of Education and Training, 2006; Van
Driel and Berry, 2012);
The need to develop professional learning
communities (DuFour and Marzano, 2011; Fullan,
And the need for teachers to be more ‘professional’
(Johnston, 2015; Wallace, 2009).
All of these components that can contribute to
school improvement have become the responsibility of
the school principal. With or without system levels of
support (funding, time allocation, resources) principals
are tasked with ensuring that, through focus on these
kind of elements of school life, improvements will
happen (Hitt and Tucker, 2015).
While the academic literature on whether or not,
or to what degree, the school Principal impacts on the
educational outcomes for students is divided (Mulford et
al., 2004), there is evidence to suggest that any impact
occurs through indirect mechanisms (Barker, 2007;
Mulford et al., 2004). For example, Hallinger and Heck
(1998) noted that the effect of the principal on student
learning is small and usually statistically hard to detect.
Barker notes that: “The great majority of schools seem
to be performing at levels that could be predicted from
knowledge of their [student] intake” (Barker, 2007, p.
p.25). This paper though focuses on how this Principal
was faced with specific school dynamics, which, in the
context of an International School in Dubai, further
complicate the processes of school reform.
School Climate and School
The third area to be outlined is that of school
climate. This paper uses the definition of school climate
asserted by the National School Climate Council (USA)
where school climate is defined as: “the quality and
character of school life. School climate is a
multidimensional concept that reflects the norms, goals,
values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and
learning practices, safety, and organizational structures
of a school community” (National School Climate
Council, 2007, p. 2). Two seminal reviews of school
climate research (Anderson, 1982; Freiberg, 1999)
provided the basis of much research, especially when
Frieberg (1999) asserted the need for more, useable,
well-defined and research-based school climate models
to facilitate further development in this area. While there
is much literature on this complex area, three key links
between school climate and school leadership are
noted briefly here.
1. Thapa et al. (2013), in their review of school climate
have highlighted many of the evidenced outcomes
associated with positive school climate (Thapa et
al., 2013). While these are too expansive to mention
here, suffice to say that school climate matters
because it has the potential to affect numerous
aspects of school life for staff, students, parents
and leaders. It is also asserted that the tone and
nature of a school’s climate becomes the
responsibility of the school principal. Developing a
positive and collaborative school climate within the
complexities of an International School setting
becomes even more challenging for principals in
these circumstances.
2. While principals have the power, authority, and
position to not only impact the school climate and
the professional capacity of their teachers, the
literature indicates that many school leaders are not
in tune with their staff (Ainscow et al., 2013;
Paustian-Underdahl et al., 2014). In the complex
and dynamic environment of schools, all principals
need to understand effective leadership behaviours
and teachers' perceptions of their behaviours (Hill,
2014; Wang et al., 2015).
3. Zepeda, Jimenez and Lanoue (2015) assert that
principals must know and understand how to
provide the foundation for creating an atmosphere
conducive to change. Leaders must be able to
correctly envision the needs of their teachers,
empower them to share the vision, enable them to
create an effective school climate and thus create
the conditions for school improvement (Fullan,
2014; Wang et al., 2015).
Effective school leaders engage in three key
behaviours when shaping the climate of the school.
Initially they detect the school culture and learn about its
history leading to the current context (Hill, 2014). Before
trying to reshape or improve the climate of the school
the principal must know the deeper meanings
embedded in it (Urick and Bowers, 2014). Secondly,
principals need to uncover and articulate core values. It
is important to identify which aspects of the climate are
damaging and which are constructive (John and Taylor,
1999). Finally, principals work to build capacity within
their staff to foster mindfulness and create the working
conditions for improvement strategies to thrive (Masters,
Thus, this paper has noted the research that
was conducted as the basis for the paper. It has
outlined the specific context of the International School
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in Dubai, and has reviewed key literature and research
about school improvement, school principals and
school climate and their co-relationship to school
improvement, with specific focus on the Middle Eastern
educational contexts.
IX. Discussion and Implications
This section discusses the themes identified
from the constructivist grounded theory analysis of data.
The themes derived from the data described the
dynamics that the Principal encountered at the UAE
International School. These themes are noted here, and
then briefly discussed. The key findings and implications
arising from this study and relevant to this paper
1. Intensified Teacher Diversity: The cultural diversity of
the school’s staff bring added complexities to the
task of school reform because of the disparate
range of cultural expectations and paradigms.
Substantial staff coherence and professional
consistency are essential for staff to have a shared
vision and mission for change (Fullan, 2014).
Understanding the inherent constraints and benefits
of this teacher diversity and managing its limitations
create an additional level of complexity for the
Principal in the school’s moves towards
improvement (DuFour and Marzano, 2011).
2. High Teacher Turnover: The high levels of staff
turnover in International Schools is recognized
(Benson, 2011) and in this school the Principal has
noted impacts of the teacher turnover on the
cohesion of staff, the school’s organizational
structure, and the (loss of) knowledge of the
instructional learning programs and routines of
every-day school life.
3. Staff Communication and Languages: With the
cultural diversity comes linguistic diversity that
further compounds communication within the
school. In this school there are three groups of
language speakers, which further complicates not
only communication but also professional
relationships amongst and between staff members.
4. Pedagogical Difference:
the diversity of cultural
backgrounds of the staff also results in a wide
variety of pedagogical differences. While difference
can be beneficial, ensuring that there is consistency
and a shared pedagogic vision becomes more
challenging when the variety of pedagogies are
greater and more disparate than in other, state-
based educational systems in Western countries.
5. Teacher Professionalism:
Notions of what it means
to be a professional educator also vary greatly with
this diverse cohort of teachers. Again, this adds
another level of complexity as the Principal seeks to
develop consistency and professionalism in the
6. Performance Management Regulations: The
Principal’s need for clarity and understanding of the
regional school accountability regulations was more
intense in this Middle Eastern context. Additionally,
he noted the need to work with the system of school
ratings that holds schools accountable for
improving student achievement and overall levels of
school performance. Developing staff
understanding of the performance standards rubrics
is a foundational step that was challenging in these
a) Intensified Teacher Diversity
This International School experiences high
levels of teachers’ cultural diversity as teachers from
around the world bring with them a range of “Western”
and Middle Eastern educational and cultural knowledge
and understandings. The impact of this teacher diversity
is significant for International Schools as it invariably
affects the school, its students and the teachers
themselves. While teachers’ cultural diversity brings
benefits, it also presents challenges. This school’s
Principal was aware of the need to align school
improvement strategies to the tasks of recruiting,
selecting, developing, and retaining effective teachers to
maximize the success of such strategies. In doing so,
the Principal could ensure that the school had the
necessary teaching talent for the implementation of the
school’s instructional vision.
b) High Teacher Turnover.
While high turnover of principals and staff in
International Schools is a recognised phenomenon
(Benson, 2011; Hawley, 1995; Odland and Ruzicka,
2009), this school realised an average 20% change in
staff each year. The overall effect of this level of teacher
turnover depended on the effectiveness of individual
teachers and their distribution across the school
(Mancuso et al., 2010). If leaving teachers were equally
as effective as those who replace them, then there
should be a smaller net effect on student achievement
due to the turnover. While there was no evidence to
determine whether or to what degree this staff turnover
may contribute to lower student achievement, or
whether low achievement may also cause teachers to
leave, the school’s capacity to recruit quality staff added
to the complexity of the situation. The Principal noted the
negative impact of staff turnover on staff cohesion, the
disruptive nature of staffing changes on the school’s
organisational routines, and loss of knowledge about
the instructional learning programs.
c) Staff Communication and Languages
With the noted cultural diversity evident in this
International School’s staff also came a linguistic
diversity. The school’s staff fell into three distinct
linguistic groups: those who speak only English; those
who speak only Arabic; and those who speak one of
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those languages, with a little of the other language and
are thus, bilingual. The linguistic diversity in this
International School served to further divide and at times
isolate the staff. In many other International Schools
English is the ‘lingua franca’ that all staff are expected to
speak and understand. However, this is a bilingual
school, with teaching programs in both Arabic and
English. When around a third of the staff speak only one
of the nominated languages, this acts to further divide
and isolate, rather than unite the staff, towards a
common, shared vision. Thus, the Principal was
charged with not only building school culture,
implementing school improvement strategies, providing
professional development and monitoring the day-to-
day operations of the school, but also with doing so in
the context where not all staff speak the same language.
d) Pedagogical Difference
Not only does the school’s teachers have a
wide variety of cultural perspectives but each of these
teachers came with an inherent teaching pedagogy and
teaching roles. Their established educational
expectations were drawn from a vast assortment of
teacher training programs across a range of nations.
The teaching approaches that teachers have developed
around pedagogical concepts such as: lifelong learning,
behavior management, critical thinking, experiential and
discovery learning, are often at odds with the teacher-
centered, rote learning style that dominates Islamic and
Middle Eastern education. Therefore, the Principal’s role
was to manage the staff professional development, and
sometimes re-training, in order to align the staff’s
pedagogies and enable the implementation of the
school’s instructional vision. This was another level of
complexity faced by the Principal in this International
School. Given the cultural diversity from the countries of
origin of the school’s staff and the diversity of teacher
training programs and their respective paradigms, this
International School experienced a much wider range of
diversity than many other schools.
e) Teacher Professionalism
One of the concepts under the umbrella of
enhancing teachers’ performance and the effectiveness
in advancing student achievement has been teacher
professionalism. The relationship between the culture of
the school and the level of teacher professionalism has
been noted in the literature (Australian Institute for
Teaching and School Leadership [AITSL], 2011;
National School Climate Council, 2007). Literature on
teacher professionalism offers some essential
characteristics about what is expected (Duhn, 2011;
Hilferty, 2008; Servage, 2009). Chiefly, professionally
focused teachers deliver high quality learning
experiences, are looked upon as role models, espouse
professional values such as effectiveness, efficiency and
punctuality, and have an organisational pride and
discipline in what they do. The role of the principal is
implicated in developing professionalism in teaching
staff (Thoonen
et al., 2011). For this International School,
the Principal was keen to advance notions of what it
means to be a professional teacher through engaging
teachers in a conversation about the implications for
them, their students, and the educational community.
Without this focused attention on core standards and
expectations, the opportunities for cooperative and
consistent staff behaviours was limited. Thus, this
facilitation of a shared understanding of what it is to be a
professional educator was an additional component of
this Principal’s role in this
International School.
Performance Management Regulations
The Emirate of Dubai’s requirements for
performance management and the attending
regulations in the form of an annual external inspection
process was devised to observe and rate a school’s
overall levels of student learning and progress over time.
Although a wide range of data is collected, a key
process for judging school performance is the use of
standardized test results (eg TIMSS, PISA, ISA). Using
the UAE School Inspection Framework7
, this Principal
indicated he intended to coordinate collaboration of
teachers around curriculum and standards, focus on
instructional strategies and goals, and influence student
learning through tightening assessment practices. This
has implications for leaders to not focus too strongly on
implementing practices associated with accountability
and quality assurance as this increases pressure on
teachers, thus reducing their readiness for change (Lee
and Dimmock, 1999).
This study uses the self-stated understandings
of teachers and an International School principal who
are teaching in a majority Emirati International School in
Abu Dhabi. The paper focuses on the need for school
leaders to have a strong contextual understanding
before leaping into school improvement initiatives. The
literature has shown the importance of implementing a
sustainable school improvement plan and accounting
for the specific nature of the school climate. The study
has shown ways in which this Principal addressed: the
school’s specific dynamics ahead of school reform; the
cultural, linguistic and pedagogic diversity of the staff
and how it complicated the application and preparation
for change; and the Principal’s focus on greater
professionalism for his staff. These specific challenges
were noted within the idiosyncratic nature of the national
regulatory requirements for this International School.
ges/frameworkbook en.pdf
Obstacles to School Reform: Understanding School Improvement in aUAE International School
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©2019 Global Journals
This study highlights that having a depth of
knowledge of the cultural, linguistic and pedagogical
diversity of the staff, and then addressing the
challenges, can support the school leader and the staff
in readiness for significant educational change. In this
study, the information provided to the Principal from
participation in a ‘school readiness’ survey empowered
him for informed decision-making. Thus, navigating the
complexities of school climate and the specific
dynamics evident in the school became inherent to the
plan for change. The study notes that successful school
improvement can occur when the readiness of staff for
change is high and the principal has an informed
understanding of the challenges of the school’s climate.
This was evident for this Abu Dhabi International School
and the journey of change continues for the staff and
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Full-text available
For several centuries the Middle East was socially, economically, and technologically advanced. One of the reasons for this was its people’s appreciation of and openness to knowledge creation and dissemination. This trend lasted from the 8th to the 13th centuries (Aubert and Reiffers 2003). Knowledge became the most important and determining factor for economic growth. The impact and contribution of this wealth of knowledge were felt and appreciated across different sectors and disciplines and acknowledged beyond the region and around the world. However, things changed drastically in the 18th and 19th centuries following the Industrial Revolution. In the 21st century, with oil exploration and an economic boom in some parts of the region, investment and attention was redirected to building state of the art infrastructure in various sectors, including education and health, as Middle Eastern countries prepared to engage with and integrate in the knowledge society. To date, investments allocated to sectors such as education, information infrastructure, research and development, and innovation have been insufficient in most Middle Eastern countries (Aubert and Reiffers 2003), when compared to other regions, including emerging economies.
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This study focuses on principal professional development in one school system in the United States to support a performance culture. With the leadership of the superintendent and central office leaders, principal learning communities were established to foster shared learning and professional development that enhanced their roles as lead learners in their buildings. Three primary themes emerged from the research: Beliefs Matter Only if Growth Matters, Transformational Professional Development Builds a Performance Culture, and Effective Professional Development Provides Safe Landing Change. The themes support that leading is learning. The implications of the research lie primarily in the realm of practice.
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The concept of school climate has been an important topic for education and it has been studied extensively over the past several decades. One of the challenges in such a research effort is to develop instruments that effectively and efficiently measure the construct. Literature has documented a number of school climate instruments, most of which target students' perceptions. A review of recent literature on school climate suggests that it is imperative to assess teachers' perceptions of school climate. The purpose of this study was to examine the factor structure and reliability of a revised version of a teacher survey instrument designed to measure school climate. Based on the data from a comprehensive character education project implemented in an urban school district in 2007 (n = 380), 2008 (n = 305), and 2010 (n = 277), results of exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis revealed a seven-factor structure across 3 years, indicating a stable factor structure of the revised form. The scales in this abbreviated form demonstrated similar reliability to those of the original form.
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The change in paradigm in our field is away from the great man or woman theory of leadership and the teacher in his or her own classroom to the development of learning communities which value differences and support critical reflection and encourage members to question, challenge, and debate teaching and learning issues. How to achieve such learning communities is far from clear, but we believe the areas of problem-based learning (PBL) and organizational learning (OL) offer valuable clues. The indications are that the successful educational restructuring agenda depends on teams of leaders, whole staffs and school personnel, working together (i.e., OL) linking evidence and practice in genuine collaboration (i.e., PBL). The book is unique in that it is both about and uses these two concepts.
This study is a survey and interpretation of professional development literature related to professional learning communities (PLCs) in schools. Current K-12 trade publications focusing on PLCs were analyzed against four different theoretical models of professionalism. Each model encourages and legitimates a different understanding of the knowledge content and practices that make teachers and their schools "professional." The article concludes that PLC learning presently embraces the technical and managerial dimensions of teachers' work at the expense of craft knowledge and critical perspectives, resulting in narrow and impoverished understandings of teacher professionalism, and limiting potential contributions of PLCs to teachers' professional growth and learning. © 2009 Société canadienne pour l'étude de l'éducation/Canadian Society for the Study of Education.
Finnish pupils' success in international student assessment tests is a hot topic everywhere in the world. The significance of Finnish educational policy and society are continuously discussed. This book provides explanations, answers and reflections to these questions. Over 30 expert authors have contributed to this book by bringing their own specific research-based viewpoints to these issues. The book describes the wholeness of the Finnish educational system, on both structural and administrative levels. It introduces the framing factors and societal conditions of education in Finland. It also explains how the Finnish educational system and teacher education function in everyday life. The book illustrates how teaching and learning of different subjects is realized in Finnish schools, and describes the essential characteristics and methods of teaching, learning materials and research on these issues. The book provides important insight and reflections to international researchers, teachers, students, journalists and policy makers, who are interested in teaching and learning in Finnish schools. It shows the results of the systematic and persistent work that has been done on education and schooling in Finland. The main features of education in Finland: - Strong equity policy - Teachers as autonomous and reflective academic experts - Flexible educational structures and local responsibility for curriculum developmentEvaluation for improvements, not for ranking - No national testing, no inspectorate - Research-based teacher education - Teachers' high competence in content knowledge and pedagogy - Trust in education and teachers.