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Leading by Example at Aspen Heights British School

by Eddie Rayner

By Emma Shanahan, Principal, Aspen Heights British School – Abu Dhabi

As a leadership team at Aspen Heights British School, we grasped this opportunity with enthusiasm. As an almost wholly female leadership team, we are committed to the ambitious development of our whole community; and 50% of these are female.

As leaders in our community, we aspire to be role models embodying the very best characteristics- not uniquely evident in women leaders, but seen in many women leaders globally. Characteristics of empathy and strength, communication and steadiness, collaboration and organisation form the base of this.

There is no doubt that we are all very different; I am creative and passionate about people and language, whereas Dr Plumb, our Head of Secondary, is a chemistry specialist and a hands-on scientist. But at the same time, we are very similar with our ambition and a passion for inspiring excellence in our community. These differences make our team stronger as we see things differently; our shared values ensure we are all working towards the same goals. Diversity is celebrated; we encourage students to identify their own strengths and what they are interested in and passionate about. We have all come to realise that there is more that is similar about us as a community than our differences. Our differences, however, are equally valued and contribute to making our community an interesting, diverse and vibrant place to work and learn. If we were all the same, we would only have one perspective, and to find new solutions to problems, we need to have different perspectives.  With our experiences and different perspectives, we hope to be role models not only to our female pupils and colleagues, but also to our boys and male colleagues. As fathers and workplace colleagues of women in the future, they will learn from a very young age that women and men are equally capable of achieving whatever they set out to achieve.

At Aspen, we personalise learning to meet the educational needs of all students, allowing them to shape their own learning in the direction they are interested in. We track pupil progress in detail, analysing the attainment data in terms of gender and other groups. If the data indicates one group may be outperforming another, we look at why that might be and adapt the curriculum accordingly. This ensures no groups are left behind, and there are never limits to learning for any students. 

We like to challenge stereotypes at every opportunity

We like to challenge stereotypes at every opportunity; the themes taught in all curriculum areas see a balance of gender, ethnicity and ability. During science week, students learned about high achieving scientists – both male and female – from all over the world. We learned that Eng. Reem Al Marzouqi was the first UAE citizen to be granted a patent in the USA, for designing a hands-free car for people of determination. 

At Aspen, we personalise learning to meet the educational needs of all students, allowing them to shape their own learning in the direction they are interested in

In our secondary classes, we have single-gender education, which instead of inhibiting pupil performance, we have actually found it enhances it.  Gender gaps that can historically appear in certain subjects such as mathematics and science do not appear at Aspen Heights British School since the teachers can personalise learning to the gender they are teaching; this increases engagement and pupil attainment.  Whilst our pupils are taught separately, they interact during breaks and within the shared learning environment, ensuring that the social skills they need are developed.            

We have a wonderful academic scholarship programme at our school

We have a wonderful academic scholarship programme at our school, which is an important part of any independent school programme, carrying prestige for each scholar and adding weight to university applications. For the cohort, students in this programme act as role models and peer group leaders, demonstrating how potential can be realised and what can be achieved through commitment and determination. For the school, scholars add an energy and vibrancy to community spirit, diversity and excellence. We have a strong female and male cohort of scholars who are all excelling in their education. We also have teachers and senior staff members at our school who show our students the importance of excellence in education. These staff members are not only committed to excellence as they progress on their own individual learning paths by completing masters degrees and postgraduate qualifications, but they represent our commitment to continuous learning. We want our students to be lifelong learners, and by continuing their own education, our education team at Aspen Heights British School are great role models for our students.

We are confident that our students, male and female, are going to be leaders of the future – they will lead businesses, NGO’s, and countries; they will lead change, and they will lead future generations. We are excited to see all their accomplishments and the world they will thrive in.