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The Best Job in the World: An Interview with Paul Walton of Nadeen School

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Behind every successful education innovation is a problem-solving leader. From supporting their staff and inspiring a positive culture to envisioning the best outcomes for students – education leaders are at the core of creating enriching learning experiences. As part of Gulf Insider’s Excellence in Education Leadership series, we converse with Bahrain’s leading educators, highlighting their stories, their impact, and the steps they have taken to improve the quality of education for students in the Kingdom.

How would you describe the role of an education leader?

To start with, it’s the best job in the world. Part of the job is to be a visionary, to be clear about the vision and direction of the school, to set goals and make sure there is a real purpose, to have energy and enthusiasm, to point the school forward, and to be positive in everything that you do.

A transformational education leader is required to bring in lots of change; it’s about working with people, building relationships, and trust.

Finally, it’s about being flexible. Working in education, you never know what’s around the corner.

What, in your opinion, is the key to providing enriching learning experiences to students?

As an educator, it’s always about no limits, making sure that every child believes that they can achieve anything. In my third school as a principal, I’ve seen many students come in, with low confidence, from different schools, backgrounds, or different countries, just to follow their dreams. Here, a part of our mission is the growth mindset. So, if the students want to achieve, we can help them achieve by embracing those challenges and giving them feedback and encouragement.

What are some of the innovations at your institution that promote quality education?

We’re all about the students at Nadeen School – starting with student-led initiatives. One, that we’re all torn about at the moment, is ‘Planet Protectors’. We have a group of students who, along with our student council, student leaders, and other groups, work on different projects. But, the ‘Planet Protectors’ have had real success because they’ve been looking at the environment and sustainability and recently finished runners-up in the Council of British International Schools’ International Eco Film Award. That has been a huge success this year.

Our newest initiative is High-Performance Learning. We are very proud to be the first school in Bahrain to be a part of the high-performing learning group of schools. That will give us a language of learning, a real research-based framework to open up the doors to opportunities for many of our students.

High-Performance learning is a framework, of research-based ideas. It’s a wide range of elite schools that are working together. Professor Debra Ayre, who leads High-Performance Learning, visited our school, and we sent some of our staff to London for a training course. It offers a language of learning, which incorporates 30 different keywords across the school, which is very important for Nadeen School going into a secondary school, as it gives us consistency in the language, not just for the teachers, but also for the students to talk about their learning.

Technology and AI are changing the world. How are they changing education?

Merely because I’m a computer science teacher at heart, I love innovations. But, I also recall past innovations. I recall speaking to hundreds of parents about how to use Google and search operators, and opened the door to looking at all these wonderful ways in which they could use the internet. At that time it was about students gathering information from the internet, and wondering if there will be a need for teachers. I remember speaking at a business commerce event about the use of online learning and my reaction was the same. It’s about understanding the technology, reacting to it, and also thinking carefully about how and when it’s used.

So, artificial intelligence is a further powerful tool, but it’s about understanding educationally, how and when we can use it. I’ll be fascinated to see how the exam boards will navigate this time to use AI and how we can use it in our professional development at school. There’s a place for it to enhance and transform learning and as schools, together, we need to provide education and training to understand it more.

Whenever you give students the opportunities to go online, explore and have access to a lot of content and new knowledge, there has to be that responsibility of how they use that knowledge. Going back to our growth mindset, one of our opportunities would be to educate students on how to use this tool sensibly, extend their learning, and give them new opportunities that they’ve never had before. It is an impressive tool, but it’s about how you use it effectively in schools.

Can you describe a recent student success story from your institution?

One of the recent events that resonated with me was our end-of-year performance. It was an environment show. From the staff practising with all students to the parents and a packed house boosting everyone’s confidence, it was an absolute joy to see students get on stage and perform after months of rehearsals.

The reason I mentioned this is that when we go to the new campus with new facilities, the students who love performing will be blown away by the new opportunities. So, for me, the environment show was amazing, seeing the confidence, the performance, and the high quality.

What was the best thing that happened to you when you were a student?

The biggest impact on me inside the classroom was down to things that happened to me outside of the classroom. I have two examples. I remember going to the school sports fixtures, with teachers coaching you outside of school, and that led to me having a positive impact in the classroom. Another was the environment project. I was lucky to be involved in some activities before the Duke of Edinburgh Award. I remember as a 12-13-year-old, going outside, doing dry stone walling, helping local farmers, learning to work with all the students, meeting new people, learning new skills etc. All of those things outside the classroom shifted me forward. I took my studies a lot more seriously with those new skills. These helped me grow up and mature a little bit more.

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