Educating UAE: An expat’s adventures [interview]

Kate Jones

Originally from North Wales, Kate Jones is a lead practitioner and head of History at Brighton College in Al Ain, UAE. She is a writer, governor and educational speaker. Kate’s first book, Love To Teach: Sharing teaching and learning ideas for every classroom, will be published in 2018 by John Catt Publishing.

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Images courtesy of interviewee. Images courtesy of interviewee.

Many will know Kate Jones for her popular classroom resources, or from her being a member of the original TMHistoryIcons team. Having known Kate for a while, we wanted to share her story of being an expat school leader, having traded in North Wales for the United Arab Emirates...

Not so long ago you were a History teacher and head of department at Elfed High School in Buckley, North Wales. Now, you're head of History at Brighton College in Al Ain, UAE. What are the key differences you've noticed?

There are significant cultural differences between a small town in Wales and the United Arab Emirates - both wonderful in their own ways! In my previous school there weren’t many EAL pupils, but generally across international schools there a lot of pupils that have English as an additional language. This has been an area of my teaching practice that I have had to develop and focus on. Something that has stayed the same is that the pupils are lovely at both Elfed and Brighton College - they really do make the job the best job in the world!

Via you share a lot of ideas and self-made resources. What are the benefits and challenges that come with doing so?

I thoroughly enjoy writing, and my website has helped me to become a reflective practitioner. Another aspect I really enjoy is the feedback from other teachers, who have used or adapted my ideas to use in their classrooms. To see my ideas and resources used around the world has been incredible! I don’t blog as much as I would like to, because I am so busy with my job. It can be difficult to find the time to do so, but if I have the time / opportunity then I take it.

I also find writing relaxing; it doesn’t feel like work, and there are no deadlines or pressure. I always take care with my writing because I am aware my website is very public - so all teachers writing or blogging need to consider this. The golden rule is to remember a pupil, parent, colleague, headteacher or governor could read what you write, so be aware of that. In the UAE there are specific cyber laws about what information and content people can post online, so that is another aspect I have to take very seriously and respect.

Which teaching & learning apps have impressed you most over the last year?

Recently I have been very impressed with Quizizz, which can be used as an app or on browser. I actually prefer Quizizz to other quizzes such as Kahoot, because there are features on the former that the latter doesn’t have, such as the teleport questions, where teachers can select questions from other quizzes to add to their own quiz and personalise. Also, Mark Anderson often shares apps on Twitter, including some of my favourites like Typorama and Quik. Mark has also shared some new apps that I want to check out and try in my classroom, such as the Vocal Recall app that supports teachers recording verbal feedback to give to pupils.

Kate and the TMHistoryIcons 2016 team

What do you get out of being so prolific on social media?

Social media, especially Twitter, has provided many wonderful opportunities for me. It was through joining Twitter and sharing ideas that led to the creation of my website to share ideas and reflect in more depth. This writing and sharing has now led to me writing my first book [Love To Teach: Sharing teaching and learning ideas for every classroom], which will be published next year with John Catt Publishing, and that is very exciting!

Social media has also helped me to network with other educators around the world and especially here in the UAE. I have created the hashtag #TeachUAEchat for all teachers in the region to use when asking questions, sharing practice or networking with other teachers. In addition to the hashtag I created the fortnightly Twitter chat, again using the hashtag #TeachUAEchat, and that has been very successful so far, with a great community of educators getting involved.

I also read more as a result of being on social media. Everyday there are blogs and articles shared by educators. I really enjoy reading anything by Alex Quigley and headteacher John Tomsett, both of whom actually work at Huntington school. There are some negatives to using social media, and although this rarely happens in the educational community, some people are not always pleasant and polite. I always avoid the Twitter spats and confrontations, as I am not interested and simply won’t engage with it at all. Although I recognise the importance of debate and discussion in education, I believe that it must be kept professional.

What advice would you give to a teacher looking to get into speaking at events? You seem to be a dab hand at this...

Speaking at events can be very nerve-wracking, even though teachers stand in front of a class full on young people everyday! A teachmeet event is a great opportunity to share ideas or talk about an area of interest or expertise. The timings for teachmeet presentations are often very short, about six minutes, so it's important not to add too much and then rush through it. Instead, keep it concise and have a run through before speaking publicly to find out how much you will be able to get through.

The first time I presented to an audience of teachers I was very nervous, and spoke far too fast! I have had more experience and I enjoy presenting more now, although there are many areas in which I can still improve. It might be embarrassing, but I would suggest that you watch yourself back if the event was filmed or streamed. Then you can see for yourself how you can improve, such as talking too fast, pacing, no eye contact with the audience, and so on.

Kate presents at the Digital Innovation Summit, Jumeirah English Speaking School, in 2017

Finally, if you want to get better at presenting to an audience then take every opportunity you can to present and speak publicly. In regards to writing, the best starting point is to read other bloggers. Read what they are writing about, their style, how they approach topics - want does the reader gain? Write about something of interest or that you have experience with, keep it authentic. Drafting and checking is important - posting with lots of errors isn’t great, although we are all only human!

What do you hope to achieve over the next year?

As mentioned, I have my book release in 2018, which I am really looking forward to. I hope to continue writing, presenting and networking. Every year I am becoming more confident with my teaching practice, this is due to increased experience, reading and engaging with research. In the next year, I hope to continue with my career progression and gain further leadership experience. I have personal goals to achieve which involve more travelling around the world and spending more time with the people I love.

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