Gillian Hammond: Happy, engaged teachers = happy, engaged students

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Gillian Hammond, the Principal of Repton Abu Dhabi and the Inclusion and Safeguarding Governor of Repton Dubai, oversees more than 1,370 students from more than 79 nationalities.  

Initially, Hammond joined Repton Abu Dhabi as the Head of Senior School in 2018. Prior to her positions at Repton, she was the Head of Secondary School at GEMS Winchester School in Abu Dhabi. 

Hammond’s journey is not limited to just the UAE but spans the globe, particularly the UK and Italy. She has served as the Assistant Head of 6th Form in Maghull High School, which then led to another position as the Head of Science Faculty at the International School of Turin. She was then appointed as Assistant Vice-Principal at The Belvedere Academy before she moved on to take up the same role at Brighton Aldridge Community Academy. 

Hammond brings her expertise in teaching and learning to Repton Abu Dhabi, with an attitude to improve the school, student life and education environment.  

Hammond earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Combined Science with Qualified Teacher Status with honors in 2000 from Lancaster University. She also received her National Professional Qualification for Headship from the University of Manchester in 2005.

Hammond adores travelling and likes to ski, practice yoga and read crime fiction. She passionately believes that families and staff collectively share the responsibility to enjoy and promote learning so that every student loves coming to school each day.

Education Middle East spoke to Hammond about her views on the education system in UAE, her vision for student progress at Repton Abu Dhabi and integrating children with diverse needs into mainstream schools. 

You have served in schools in the UK and Italy besides the UAE. How do you rate the education system in the UAE vs these countries?

There is a phenomenal investment into private schools in the UAE. This investment can therefore support the tremendous ambition of UAE’s leaders, school senior leadership teams and expat parents. The facilities, access to technology, opportunities to travel, global alumni connections and a true richness in diversity (we have over 92 different nationalities in our community) really do provide an incredible platform for all students to flourish in the UAE.

ADEK in its inspection stated that senior leaders have established an aspirational vision for students’ high achievement at Repton Abu Dhabi. What is your vision for the school and student progress in the upcoming years? 

Excited by, and directly in-line with the UAE’s 50×50 Initiative for School Students, our action plan for the next two to three  years prioritises:

  • Lifestyle in the future – We fully intend on enhancing our presence as a community hub for world-class learning, well-being and sporting excellence. Utilising our state-of-the-art facilities, we have already launched four sports academies, monthly parent support webinars, and we host an annual Digital Literacy Summit for other educators from around the globe. It is essential that all our members are inspired to achieve a healthy and balanced lifestyle and when COVID restrictions are lifted, we have a whole schedule of community events to launch.

 

  • Sustainability and the future of the environment – We are committed to running our schools as sustainably as possible. Our students are future leaders and are encouraged to monitor energy consumption very closely, demonstrate their growth mindset and entrepreneurial skills and innovate solutions to stimulate their communities to preserve our shared global environment. Our Building Management Systems allow us to track resource use and we have ambitious aims to reduce usage by 30%.

 

  • The future of the UAE values – Integrity, Respect, Growth Mindset, Empathy, Passion and Innovation are our values. It is our responsibility to model values and we plan to create additional, exciting opportunities for our students to develop a genuine interest in other cultures, celebrate their heritage and collaborate with peers with different faiths and opinions. We can’t wait to launch our overseas trips again and we will be fully utilising our global alumni network to provide community project experiences.

 

  • Jobs and talents of the future – Ours is a skill-based curriculum and we intend on challenging our students further with additional cross-curricular ventures. To excel in the constantly evolving employment landscape, our students must explore all subjects, sports, extra-curricular activities, and the many methods of learning to fully discover their passions and talents. Students will embark on a journey of self-discovery and develop their own evidence portfolios highlighting their unique strengths.

It is said that curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning. At Repton, how do you cultivate curiosity in your classrooms?

We deliver an engaging and contemporary curriculum that is bespoke to current context and future forecasts – politically, environmentally, socially and economically. Our facilities inspire, support and engage our whole family and our wider community in leading-edge learning. We provide state-of-the-art digital infrastructure and learning tools that enhance learning far beyond the classroom. We also fully utilise our high-calibre global connections to share expertise and provide countless pathways for all students.

Your current role also involves inclusion and safeguarding at Repton Dubai. What are your views on integrating children with diverse needs into mainstream schools?

Integrating children with special needs into our mainstream schools promotes a more inclusive, empathic and conscious community. Full integration can result in challenges that need to be considered and effectively addressed, but these are easily overcome when a parent-school partnership is established prior to the student joining a school. 

An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is absolutely essential and must be agreed upon and reviewed regularly in meetings between the school, the student, parents and any external experts employed. In formulating this IEP, a site visit is crucial as there are so many environmental factors that may affect a child’s learning. 

There must also be openness and transparency about the support available at the school. And finally, set ambitious targets! There is often an unfortunate habit for parents and staff to accept less than a SEND student is actually capable of. Stretch and challenge at every opportunity -model growth mindset.

Digital learning proved to be a blessing during the pandemic. Any learnings from the phase? 

Along with improved parental involvement via increased digital engagement and the lack of any excuse for learning to stop (emergency school closures, sick days, travel delays all irrelevant) due to fantastic remote learning provision, we have also witnessed the following new trends which I believe will be ‘here to stay’:

  • Increased use of scooters and bikes encouraged by the need to socially distance and avoid school buses/public transport – our bike racks have never been so full! And it is great to see our community more active.
  • Designated work areas for departments in all school buildings – gone are the old traditional staffrooms where all staff mixed across ‘bubbles’. Staff subject/year group focus, creativity, co-planning and sharing of best practice has increased.
  • Staggered start and end times for the school day enforced by social distancing – this greatly supports local transport congestion, a huge win for local residents and businesses. Parents also have increased opportunities for 1:1 meet and greets with senior leaders outside.
  • Assessments are thankfully encouraged to be continuous and focus on the process and skills rather than a final product. Evidence is collated as students build their portfolios (just in case exams are cancelled).
  • A much greater focus on well-being of all school family members and the need to remain connected as a community was confirmed as vital.
  • There is also an increased respect level within our community for our talented and committed teachers who continually demonstrate dedication, resilience and resourcefulness.

Travelling, skiing and practicing yoga are some of your hobbies. Do you think teachers can use their hobbies to engage students better?  

Our teachers enjoy sharing their passion with students via our extra-curricular programme. This has resulted in over 110 different clubs and activities being offered each week and has greatly strengthened relationships – students see their teachers in a different context. Being mindful and actively managing well-being is part of our culture and we encourage all of our staff to participate in activities that they love throughout the week. Happy, engaged teachers = happy, engaged students.