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Citizens School – Education for a Changing World

by Eddie Rayner

Every school aspires to be recognised as a ‘unique’ institution. The challenge is figuring out what makes it unique, expressing that, and making it plausible. At Citizens School, they have no such concerns, for this is a school with no teachers and no students! Actually, that’s not entirely true, when the school opens in September, teachers and students will be known as mentors and learners, underlining a new educational philosophy where every youngster’s innate ability to think differently will be celebrated. There are many more ’points of difference’, driven by a leadership team with tremendous passion and incredible experience. Education UAE spoke to one member of this team, Janice Butterworth, Director of Learning, to find out more about her new role and how she personally feels Citizens School is different.

Education UAE: Can you give a little background on your career history, when you moved to Dubai, and why you accepted the post at Citizens School?

Janice: I started my career over 20 years ago in the UK, working initially in the north of England in a range of schools located in some of the most deprived areas of the country. I was fast-tracked quickly to become a Deputy Head and subsequently a Headteacher across a variety of locations in the south of England.

When I relocated to the UAE over six years ago, I decided to take a step back and learn about the UAE and how KHDA operates with the British curriculum. I already had an understanding of working with diverse cultures and backgrounds in the UK but moving into the position of being a Vice-Principal and Head of Primary in one of the leading UK curriculum schools in the region was a proud moment.

It was an incredible and wonderful learning trajectory, as well as a great introduction to the international school market and fee-paying model. Not only did I get to learn a different approach to British education, but I also understood quickly both the educational needs of the children versus the commercial needs of the business. In addition, I got to form some amazing relationships with students, parents and teachers from around the world.  We really are working in the educational epicentre of cultural diversity here in the UAE.

Mid pandemic, I took up a new position as the Principal for a large school group that was diversifying into the MENA region.

Why move to Citizens? I was immediately drawn to the vision and creation of a new disruptive educational initiative where the focus was to look at adaptive learning environments, to enable and facilitate the power of choice for every child. It was this strong ethos and legacy-proof thinking post-Covid that made me realise that schools, now more than ever, need to facilitate students for a future that is fit for purpose, given the rapidly changing technology and the data-driven world in which we live.

My key responsibility will be being an advocate for change, helping the team to become more effective and perpetual educators

Education UAE: Many readers may not be fully aware of the role of a Director of Learning, so could you take us through a typical day?

Janice: My key responsibility will be being an advocate for change, helping the team to become more effective and perpetual educators.

As the Director of Learning, it is my role to ensure that the Citizens’ curriculum development is agile, future-proof and ready to give every child the right foundation to explore and be the best that they can be. What this means is that we must modernise and change the way in which education is served to our children, sometimes disruptive, and often challenging.

My initial task is designing and implementing our bespoke Citizens Tapestry, bringing in overriding themes such as wellbeing, entrepreneurism, sustainability and creativity, creating a unique opportunity to develop something never seen before within this region. More importantly, if we get it right, we will have contributed something so much more meaningful to the 2071 UAE centennial plan.

My initial task is designing and implementing our bespoke Citizens Tapestry

Education UAE: What do you view as your most important contribution to the daily operations of your school?

Janice: Simple. When a parent picks up their child after a day at school and asks them, “How was your day at school today?” the answer must and always be, “We had a brilliant day; I had so much fun, school is so cool!”

If I can, in a small way, shape or form, help to facilitate that sort of commentary by creating the right learning environment, then I will have done my job.

All team members have been recruited with a clear vision to ensure each brings something special to Citizens

Education UAE: What goals have you set yourself for the first year at Citizens School?

Janice: Rome was not built in a day.  We are a new school that is ripping up the rule book and trying to be disruptive in a sector where things have been the same for the past century. The fundamentals need to be right and that means introducing the rich Tapestry into the curriculum so that it is unique, challenges the status quo and pushes the education sector forward. It will not always be right from day one as nothing ever is! This new world we are in encourages risk-taking and it is those who manage that risk who make the difference. Therefore, my primary goal is to establish and embed a truly unique curriculum that really does meet the needs of the 21st-century learner

Education UAE: How do you keep mentors motivated?

Janice: Relationships are key, so inspiring them, leading by example, and valuing each and every team member.

All team members have been recruited with a clear vision to ensure each brings something special to Citizens. They demonstrate the skills we want our children to have, such as agility, creativity, entrepreneurism and a genuine love of learning. This is not just a job. We are in a unique position whereby we will be shaping and moulding future generations to be the best that they can be.

We are laser-focused on reimagining the learning environment

Education UAE: How do you meet the wide variety of needs of the learners you support?

Janice: Each child is unique and special. It is the responsibility of the entire team to ensure we meet the needs of every single child in our care. From the Primary mentors who will oversee the classes to our specialist mentors who will develop the children in specific areas, to the highly experienced skilled Inclusion and EAL team. One of the most amazing things that this city has done over the past few years has been to champion those who may never have had a voice before. We truly do celebrate inclusivity and diversity at our school. We feel that we are more than equipped to deal with all children regardless and we truly are Citizens of the future.

Education UAE: More and more, schools are becoming a focal point of the community. How are you reaching out to stakeholders in the public and private sector, as well as to parents? 

Janice: I was raised in an area where the school was always the heart of the community. Citizens is not just a school. It is a recreational area for parents and learners to come together. We can learn so much more from the world of business, from advertising to retail, transportation to food and beverage and philanthropy to arts and culture. Today, we are developing meaningful connections with business and commerce, arts and culture and the future entrepreneurs of the world to ensure that these relationships contribute not only to the learners’ wellbeing but also to that of the community. Creating a shared learning platform allows us to become the focal point.

Education UAE: How does Citizens School differ from other places you have worked?

Janice: The vision permeates through from the founder and CEO to every member of staff. We believe that future generations need more complete choices. We are tenacious and passionate, unaccepting of the current ways in which we serve our children to become better versions of themselves. At Citizens we aspire to create a better way, reimagining the traditional and challenging the conventional.

We are laser-focused on reimagining the learning environment. In the traditional educational world, a teacher’s role is to impart knowledge through instruction and explanation via formal subject lessons. At Citizens, our mentors will strongly ensure that the days of children’s learning from one source are long gone!

Education UAE: What is the biggest challenge that you foresee in this job?

Janice: We are the trailblazers, and we will be challenged.  More importantly, our job is to work with the parents and the wider community to help them understand what the power of choice means for their children’s future. We must help them reimagine what the future could be like in all aspects of life.

Educations UAE: Finally, can you tell us an interesting personal fact about yourself not included in your resume?!

Janice: I am an animal collecting, festival-going, snowboarding, music-loving wannabe triathlete! Not all at the same time I hasten to add!