Think Differently: An Interview with Dave McMaster of The American School Of Bahrain


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 educational leader? 

Three important things come to mind when I look at the role of an education leader in the K12 sector. First, you have to be a change agent; you have to be adaptive. Schools are notorious for doing things the same way they were done perhaps 50-100 years ago and that simply doesn’t work anymore. So you have to make it clear that change is good. Second, you need to be an outstanding recruiter. Research shows that the best schools have excellent teachers who work with students. So it’s my job as is every education leader’s to be a great recruiter and just as importantly, retain those excellent teachers. Finally, the role of an education leader is to set the tone. ASB started with a blank canvas and set the tone of happiness, engagement, a sense of safety and a place where students can take risks. 

What, in your opinion, is the key to providing an enriching learning experience to students at ASB?

There are many ways to provide enriching learning experiences and the way not to do it is by repeating what we’ve done 20-30 years ago. I implore my teachers to not teach like they were taught because the skills and qualities that students today need are very different. I believe that to enrich students, you need to be able to create an environment where students are able to take risks with their learning, be able to answer questions even if they’re wrong and experience a sense of safety in the classroom. Teachers need to be able to take the same risks as well and as a leader, I must enable such an environment. I’m more interested in teachers willing to try new things than those who come up with elaborate lesson plans.

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

Technology is the first thing that comes to mind. However, while it has had a significant impact on teaching and learning, it is important to look at the way assessments are conducted. Most educational institutions focus on assessment as an accumulation of knowledge – gathering information and planning a test around it. I believe that’s not innovation. Looking at different types of summative ways of assessing knowledge and information retention will enable students to show their understanding through more impactful ways that will help them with lifelong learning.

Speaking of technology and artificial intelligence, they are changing the world. How are they changing education?

It was around the time I got into teaching, the early nineties when we first started using the internet. Between that and 30-something years later, technology has had a greater impact on education than anything else. It forced educators to think differently, to allow students to think differently. It does not drive the curriculum but it has enabled various modes of learning and assessment. In terms of AI, I feel there’s a lot of unknowingness but like it was with the internet, AI is going to persuade educators to individualise their students’ learning and provide them with better opportunities. 

Can you describe a recent student success story from ASB? 

Our first three years have gone better than we could have anticipated; we’ve had some great successes. The most recent being our grades 10 and 11 students participating in the six to eight-month Injaz Company Program. This was the first time we were involved and we were a little nervous and excited. When you ask about change, innovation, or enriching experiences, this was a program that demanded all of it. The students went through with it mostly on their own – they came up with a concept, pitched it, marketed it, and sold it. They had to hire and fire their peers; it was a real-world experience and they went through some ups and downs, at times, wanting to throw in the towel and at times, feeling like it was the best work they had done. The process changed them as students and they had a great learning experience. From 50 schools, they ended up among the top 10 schools and eventually made it to the regional level which will be held in Qatar. It was a significant milestone for our school. 

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