Meet the new Head of School – a Q&A session with Ruth Burke | SISD
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Feb 21, 2021

Meet the new Head of School – a Q&A session with Ruth Burke

What are your educational passions?

I am very passionate about the IB – it is absolutely the gold standard of education, and now more than ever, we need to equip our children with specific skill sets, a life-long thirst for learning and a positive mindset for life. These are the underlying principles and ethos of the IB.

Language acquisition, and the ability to speak a number of languages is the future for our children. I certainly wish I had thought about the importance of bilingualism more when my children were younger! In a post-covid world, with a landscape of new careers developing, remote working becoming the norm and the growth of multi-lingual global businesses, languages – especially the main European and Arabic languages – will be a huge advantage for our students.

As a highly successful leader of international schools, I am excited to share my experience and expertise in further developing the learning opportunities for SISD students, focusing on improving key aspects of provision and practice. Having worked in 3 IB schools, I am very familiar with the nature of the IB programme, and the positive outcomes that children can achieve from this way of learning.

Now more than ever, students’ wellbeing and emotional welfare is paramount and in raising well-balanced, resilient and responsible global citizens, our partnerships with parents and the extensive access to the superb range of specialists and support staff at SISD will support all members of our community.

Why you are excited to be part of a Swiss bilingual school?

The SISD Education is unique: global in its outlook, bilingual in its approach, Swiss in its culture, and yet also rooted in the local community of Dubai. The IB is what employers and universities are now looking for, and when combined with the languages and the STEAM education that SISD offers, I have no doubt that we have developed something unique for our students – I am looking forward to developing this and supporting the school in the next stage of its growth and development.

The learning of languages is a key feature of the educational landscape in Dubai; at SISD we take this to the optimum level in offering bilingual pathways, from EYFS through the secondary phases, in both French and German. This alongside our fully bilingual Arabic pathway, commencing in EYFS from September 2021, offers the students of SISD authentic linguistic acquisition opportunities. For families who do not opt for the bilingual approach, the English/STEAM pathway offers an innovative and multi-disciplinary approach with a strong linguistic base making SISD a school where genuine pathways support families and students needs in a highly personalised manner.

Increasing access to language skills and ensuring the highest levels of learning and teaching in classrooms, through our co-teacher approach, ensures that our students’ unique educational experiences set them up for success in all areas of development. We have a fantastic team of bilingual leaders, language teachers and assistants at SISD, with over 24 nationalities of native speakers, and re-enforcing our position as one of the top bilingual schools in the UAE will be a significant area of focus for us at SISD over the next few years.

As well as the unique language focus here at SISD,  there are many excellent features that make the school such an exciting one to be a part of, and to lead. High levels of staff commitment and generous teacher/student ratios, outstanding facilities ensuring sports, arts, technological and academic talent can flourish, as well as the high quality of our boarding provision for both boy and girls from the age of 11 are some of the most appealing elements of the SISD experience.

Currently rated ‘Good’ by DSIB, I look forward to working alongside our highly committed staff body, student community and parents on the journey to ‘Very good’ and beyond, building on the excellent reputation of SISD and further nurturing a joy for learning and genuine ambition for each student and our school community, at every opportunity.

How is Dubai becoming an education and boarding destination of choice, especially as parents are reluctant to send their children long-haul / to the UK?

In our ever-changing global landscape, particularly with the challenges the recent pandemic has presented, the boarding option at SISD offers significant benefits to families. The traditional UK and European boarding solutions, previously opted for by many, are no longer straightforward; with travel restrictions and unknown virus/variants and regular regulation changes, many Middle East based expatriates as well as Emirati families are opting for the SISD boarding experience – which really needs to be seen to be fully appreciated!

The quality of care and support, accommodation and living space, extra-curricular opportunity, focus on individual wellbeing and wellness and overall experience is simply breath-taking. This is area where we will experience substantial growth in the coming years; boarding offers families considerable flexibility and support, nurturing in students a sense of balance and belonging, that will set them up for future success.

Coupled with the IB and our passions for multi-lingual students and families, SISD will be able to establish itself as the perfect alternative to expat families, looking for boarding options closer to home. I am looking forward to working with the boarding team to lead this exciting stage of our growth and school journey.

What are the areas you will be focusing on at the school, to raise standards and support the school getting to a Very Good rating, whilst also not losing the Swiss and unique elements?

Our Swiss ethos and approach to all aspects of provision, practice and policy ensures a genuine focus on quality. From initial conversations with our admissions team the understanding that each child matters to us as an individual, that their needs will be appreciated and met and in building a rapport with our parents, the partnership that will support and nurture the future growth of each student is valued and developed.

Continuing to focus on all aspects of the learning experience will be paramount in developing SISD; as a strong advocate of active learning approaches, we will continue to invest in practice where students can engage in authentic learning opportunities, relating learning to real life experiences and consolidating new concepts through adequate practice and application.

A focus on all students knowing how to improve is an area very close to my heart; through clearly sharing learning goals and scaffolding students on their way to achieving these goals, we nurture self-esteem and inspire ambition.

Mentor systems to ensure that all students know they are effectively supported and how to seek additional help when required, developing leadership opportunities for students, ensuring that the student body are positively impacting all aspects of their school community and being ambitious in their approach for themselves and their school, augmenting personalised approaches and pathways to ensure all learners’ needs are met so optimum progress can take place are amongst my key priorities.

Ensuring that the optimum conditions for our students and staff to thrive, nurturing a genuine appreciation and love of learning, building a cohesive community and improving academic outcomes will be amongst the key areas of focus in what is already a dynamic, learning-centered and unique school.

Why do you love the IB and why do you think it is a great programme for 21st century students?

Many schools in Dubai offer IB pathways at post-16 level but at SISD, our curriculum and provision is completely IB focused, with PYP and MYP routes in our primary and middle school sections ensuring that the IB Learner profile is embedded when students are in the initial stages of formal learning and attitude formation, greatly assisting with their successful transition to Diploma level, as students are well-versed in thinking critically, being independent and open-minded from an early age.

The IB programme offers students a wealth of opportunities that sets them up for future study and workplace success. Much research is available to support claims that students who have completed the IBDP or IBCP programs find the transition to university less challenging than students who have gained access through alternative routes. Certainly first year drop-out rates from university back this research up as does data exploring numbers remaining at university to pursue Masters’ qualifications after Bachelor’s/ first degree level, further substantiating the assertion that the IB program equips students with the skills and attitudes to be successful learners, enjoy their learning pathways and opting to continue in further education.

In addition, the value of maintaining a wide array of subjects post-16 cannot be underestimated. For me, students continuing to experience a range of subjects equips them with options for future study undoubtedly, but perhaps more importantly furnishes them with a strong foundation across a greater number of disciplines that will support them in study and in work.

Key components of the IBDP for example, include Theory of Knowledge and the Extended Essay, where students are required to think critically and research effectively, presenting coherent arguments and rationale.  In addition, and in line with feedback from employers, students’ skills in ‘thinking outside the box’ and developing multi-disciplinary approaches to problem-solving and project management cannot be underestimated; the wider curriculum including Community Action and Service, another key component of the IBDP, ensures students consider and positively impact the lives of others.

The essence of the IB is not just about knowledge acquisition – it is about equipping students with skills for employment, skills for life and to support them in becoming globally-responsible citizens. And this is where the IB stands out – developing the soft skills that the future generation will need – risk taking, confidence, creativity, inquiry and problem solving – these skills are embedded in the full spectrum of IB programmes – and at SISD we start this approach with students as young as 3 years!

What can our parents and school community expect from you?

I am a people person, and always knew I wanted to be a teacher from my first day at school in Ireland. The inherent and absolute joy of teaching certainly hasn’t negated over time, and the magic of seeing students from three years of age in Early Years classrooms through to young adults embarking on university pathways is a privilege and an honour; the special contribution of every member of staff on that journey, in partnership with parents, can never be under-estimated. As a firm believer in ‘every lesson, every day counts’, a focus on quality learning is central within my previous schools and leadership success.

The power of building student engagement, and finding an area for each and every child in which to excel in, is a key aspect of school success. Celebrating the efforts of teams, choirs, production teams, squads, maths and chess champs for example, will motivate and build increased levels of participation and success. Schools have a fundamental part to play in students experiencing and fully grasping the relationship between effort, progress and happiness; pursuits beyond the classroom walls will be given great support and increased focus.

I am passionate about creating opportunities in which students and staff can experience the joy of being successful. Being mindful always of student/staff wellbeing and enhancing effective support systems that nurture positive outcomes is key in the development of high performing learning communities. I look forward to working alongside all our stakeholders at SISD to augment and further develop all that is already established and working so well.

I am excited to get to know the SISD community! I am keen to learn more about SISD from the key stakeholders, the students in particular, and I am looking forward to leading the school in the years ahead.