Designing Education for 21st Century Learning


Interview with Dave McMaster, Founding Director of American School Bahrain

American School of Bahrain offers a holistic and challenging American and international educational program founded on the pillars of academic excellence. As an Esol Education school, ASB is part of a family of exceptional international schools around the world in locations such as Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Hong Kong, Cairo, Nicosia and Lebanon.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your work and philosophy.

I worked as a teacher, vice principal and principal at five schools in Canada prior to moving to Hong Kong to work at a large international school as principal for two years and then Head of School for 10 years. I’ve been an educator for 31 years, the last 26 as a principal or head of school.

I’m a huge believer in having a positive school atmosphere and an ethos that the kids and staff would love to come to. The greatest thing I can do as a leader is to set that atmosphere and ethos to one where people want to be there. I think this makes the learning and the teaching much more natural.

What advice would you give students from your 30 years’ experience working in schools?

I think for students these days, the greatest advice I would give them is please do, as I say, not as I do.

Don’t be afraid to do things differently. Don’t be afraid to put up your hand and challenge a comment your teacher, director or parent has made. Do it respectfully and do it with humility, but don’t be afraid to challenge popular opinion.

And I would tell young people today to follow your passions. If you love art, follow art; if you love music, follow music. If you love reading and you’re an academic, follow that. Take the advice of your parents for sure. Your parents have your best interest in mind, but at the end of the day, it’s your life. And you need to be accountable for your life.

Could you just tell us a bit about your philosophy of designing education for 21st century learning?

I’ve learned over the years that as educators, we’re so resistant to change but I would like ASB to be innovative.

We’ve got a great mix of very experienced teachers who have taught 25 to 30 years as well as teachers with a few years of experience. All of these teachers, regardless of years of experience need to be the type of people who are willing to try different things and take risks. It is easier to mold somebody that’s younger. But I do think if we’re going be innovative, if we’re going to try new things then we need to have people who are going to be up for it.

Technology is also a real catalyst to change education and how we do it. It’s forced people to do things differently and the way the education sector is handling COVID-19 is a great example.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I’ve been very fortunate in my career from a professional standpoint that I have worked with some great people and educators. From a professional standpoint, I had a boss named Doug Player who took a big chance on me as a young administrator. He told me a couple of things; one is to “never be satisfied with status quo”.

He also said, “You’re young enough that it’s okay to make mistakes. Change things up, allow your teachers to take risks. Take some risks yourself. I’m responsible for this entire school district. I’ll take the heat.” And that really instilled a level of confidence in me to try and be as progressive as I can in an effort to set a tone in the school of always moving forward.

He also said to put everything about yourself into your job but don’t let your job identify you.

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