The school year, 2015/16, has finished and we are now in the holiday period awaiting the start of 2016/17.
Its been an interesting year for me, being my first year in a new position, that of Director of IT, plus my first year back in the UK after a 7 year absence while out in the UAE.
Firstly I think its important to note that I am shocked at how quickly the year has gone. It feels like only yesterday that I boarded a plane from Dubai airport to return to the UK in order to undertake the interview for the position I now hold. In reality that was a year ago. Yet, it also feels like I have been in the UK the whole time without ever leaving. An interesting sensation which highlights the confusion of memory.
The year has been very much about adapting to changes in my routines. During my time in the UAE I had developed various routines around everything from the commute to work, to meetings, to professional development, etc. The routines I had worked well within the specific context I was operating in including the individual schools and projects with which I was involved. The change in context resulting from my new role and relocation has required changes to my routines and also some totally new routines as well as the abandonment of some routines which no longer serve their purpose. These often little things have a big impact on life.
It has also been a year in which I have been aware of a greater sense of the unknown, the random and of variability. While in the UAE I had a number of years experience and this helped to make everything seem familiar plus to provide baseline information to help with decision making. It got to the point that decisions and actions felt almost natural and requiring little in the way of conscious effort. Within my new role, everything is new and therefore I am less comfortable due to a lack of familiarity with how things work, as well as with the people concerned. Everything requires conscious effort. Thinking back I cant remember having the same feeling in the UAE however I suspect this is a trick of my memory, allowing me to recall the later period of my time in the UAE, but preventing me from remembering how things were in that opening year.
With all the changes I have to acknowledge also the similarities. During my time in the UAE I had built up an image of what I will call the “UAE way of doing things”. This image implies that things in the UAE are different than they are back in the UK. In some ways they are however I viewed education in the UAE as also being different. Having come back to the UK I am now more inclined to same that there are more commonalities than there are differences. Curriculum change, staffing issues, workload and centralised inspection are issues which concern staff in both the UK and in the UAE. The nature of the concerns may be slightly different in either context however the overarching issues are the same. How do we get qualified, experienced and skilled staff? How do we handle changes to qualifications and the curriculum? How do we manage to meet all the accountability measures and enact all the latest initiatives while maintaining a work/life balance? (Note: I always found working in the sun while sat by the pool as at least a partial solution to work/life in the UAE.) How do we handle the pressure and expectations resulting from school inspections and how can we make sure inspection findings are fair? I suspect these questions reappear the world over.
The question I find myself asking is what can I take away from the year; what have I learned?
I think the key thing I have learned is that we are all very adaptable to change however we are equally set up to be adverse to it. Change however can be a good thing. I also realise that our memories are not as factual as we believe them to be. As such my memories of the UAE, for example, focus mainly on the later years and the period in which I had become comfortable and not on those initial years where everything was new and different, and therefore more comparable to the year I have just had. It is important to be aware of this fact and to consider the implications when presented with decisions which represent potential change.
2016/17 now looms on the horizon. The challenge is to meet it head long and to work to ensure that it represents a “better” year than the one just passed. “Onwards and upwards”, as I often find myself saying.