This fall, with the opening of Dwight School Dubai, Dwight’s spark of genius educational philosophy extended to the Middle East. Our school, with its reputation as a leader on the world stage, has quickly made an impact in a community that has one of the highest concentrations of international schools anywhere.
In exclusive interviews with EdArabia, the number-one education guide in the Middle East, Vice Chancellor Blake Spahn and Head of School Dianne Drew shared their perspectives on the future of international education — and some insights into what makes Dwight’s world-class education unique. We’re delighted to republish them here:
Blake Spahn: “Personalized learning is at the core of everything we do.”
How do Dwight Schools attract and retain the best teachers?
Finding and supporting our teacher’s individual sparks of genius so their love of the classroom is never lost, is a strong belief of the Dwight Schools. Providing both internal and external professional development to ensure that they are constantly expanding their knowledge base and sharing that with our community is crucial to a thriving school.
We recruit teachers from all over the globe and teachers seek out Dwight, knowing our mission and excellence with the IB. Time within our schools, gathering the deep knowledge of world experts, having the opportunity to work at various global campuses and connect with educators across our schools is highly appealing to faculty as they build their careers. We want them to feel inspired, motivated, and validated for the choice they have made to become an educator.
Having spent over 20 years in education, what have you learned and what are your plans for the year ahead at Dwight?
Dwight is unique in that it has been run by the same family for over 80 years. We treat our colleagues and students as members of one large family. I have learned that if we look at each student as our own child and ask ourselves what is the right thing for their future, no matter how difficult, we are able to make the best decision for each and every individual student.
Nothing is more important than what happens in the classroom. We are continuing to recruit outstanding teachers from other Dwight schools as well as externally to ensure that Dwight Dubai is known as the place where students come to reach their full potential.
We are also developing more global cross-curriculum and experiential programs to support a child’s time at Dwight. We want students initiating, working, exploring and experiencing a variety of motivating opportunities with their Dwight peers. Performance experiences like our latest Shanghai music festival, combined sporting competitions around the world, academic challenges like the Global Issues Network in Luxembourg or Model UN in Seoul are all just a small sample of the events Dwight Dubai students can partake in. We want our students truly living the global vision this school believes in.
In your opinion, what are the key issues/challenges involving teaching and assessment in the current education landscape?
We found that if we want our students to be prepared to be able to take their ideas and make them a reality, then we need to train our teachers as well.
We started a program called Frontier Teaching where we are training our teachers in Lean Startup Methodology and Design Thinking. They learn these frameworks, take the associated skills, and then use them to inspire their students across all subject areas. Students under the mentoring of their teachers work together to initiate projects that can go forward to our Spark Tank incubator.
Regarding assessment, limited testing options that do not show the entire story of a student or their true ability or skill set is a real issue. A single test on a single day should not be the only defining tool of what a student can share or remember. We attempt to solve this at Dwight by making sure we are focused on our mission of igniting each and every student’s spark of genius. Personalized learning is at the core of everything we do in and out of the classroom in order to truly know all the elements of what a child has to offer.
If you could pass on any wisdom to educators globally, what would you share?
That teaching provides infinite possibilities for them, particularly in the international teaching market. That education is going through interesting times and that now is the time to connect with innovative schools and embark on challenging, meaningful and rewarding career paths.
Dianne Drew: “Students have the ability to direct their own learning at Dwight.”
Why is international education so important?
Our global vision pillar emphasizes the importance we place on international education and the need for our students to look at the bigger picture. Too many schools focus only on local, state or national curriculums. This is completely under preparing our students for a world that is anything but insular. They need to know how to build relationships with global peers through collaboration, innovation and communication. They need to share best practices, opinions and ideas with all walks of life, all faiths, all cultures and all languages. Dwight is committed through the IB and through our Dwight network of campuses to give that emphasis to their education from the time they first step through our school doors.
What has been the most memorable lesson you have learned so far from IB education?
That a curriculum such as the IB, which provides academic vigor, personal growth and character education is the greatest gift a school or parent can provide. This curriculum based on high international standards of excellence but also steeped in global mindedness is the only course of study I want my two daughters to pursue. I want this for them and I honestly want this for all students.
Proactive parent involvement has been shown to yield positive results for schools and students. What is your approach for Dwight School NY?
The home school relationship cannot be underestimated. The student is at the center of every discussion at Dwight and having a team of supporters between the school and family, is critical to a child’s academic, social, and emotional well being. Dwight is not a school that welcomes your child on the first day and ignores the parent until graduation. We are a school that believes that parents regular involvement in the school community, their feedback and their own expertise is necessary for a thriving school to exist. As a parent we ask you to roll up your sleeves and join the path of learning with us, as we collectively support the success of your child.
How do you expect the education sector to be challenged over the next 20 years?
Nearly every major industry in the world has needed to change with expanding technologies. Schools unfortunately have been very slow to change, limiting student use of technology and hardly changing the classroom environment to adapt to the changing ways our children view the world. Schools need to give students the flexibility and the skills to determine their future earlier than the standard, traditional school model can provide. Dwight is on the cutting edge of technology enhancement by developing our Dwight Global Online program and Spark Tank incubator to significantly change the scheduling options for students.
Students have the ability to direct their own learning at Dwight. They can augment their regular course offerings at school by selecting one or two additional online courses from over 80 different subjects. They could become a blended student that spends 50 percent of their time online and 50 percent at school therefore freeing up critical time to pursue internships or talents (their sparks of genius). They can also choose to pursue a Dwight diploma completely online which allows them to develop already established careers and professional growth (fledgling businesses, sports, acting, dancing, etc.) while they gain the necessary academic success to support their higher education pursuits.
Our Spark Tank incubator encourages students of all ages to take their learning to the next level. From the project in the classroom to the product on the shelf, from the art creation in the studio to the fashion runway, from the idea in the science lab to the prosthetic limb patent, from the bake sale for climate warming to the book that is published and shared across IB schools for environmental awareness. Our aim is to show students that they are change agents right now regardless of their age. This is what future workplaces need and it is where schools need to change when thinking about how we prepare students for the challenges ahead.
If you were to predict an ideal future for education, what would it look like?
Community is a pillar we emphasize at Dwight because it is the foundation of successful relationships as humans. Community is based on the strength of a family, a sense of belonging, empathy, resilience and support.
Social media although claiming to bring people together can also isolate individuals, reducing traditional methods of communication, social interaction and a sense of belonging. I would like to see the future of education focusing on the social and emotional needs of students. Curriculum focused on health, wellness, a strong sense of self and an earnest desire to help others is needed in the future from educational institutions. Helping students to develop meaningful, successful relationships with family, friends, partners and the professional setting is crucial in a world that can often seem so desperate.
If you could pass on any wisdom to Dwight students, what would you share?
Be an educational risk taker. Take up every opportunity a school or parent gives you. Life is short and your time in school is fleeting too. Try out for the school play, sit next to the new student in the cafeteria, look up the film a teacher mentioned in class, harness the courage to travel to a new country and speak a new language. Stretching yourself in small ways everyday will help you embrace your life with courage and enthusiasm. Life will not come knocking on your door so take small risks and see what exciting opportunities present themselves when you take a chance.