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Back to school: New focus on Moral Education in UAE schools

Moral Education is an initiative of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces that was announced in 2016 and first piloted at 20 schools across the UAE. Schools across the UAE have started implementing it within the curriculum this semester and is said to have been inspired by classes in Japanese schools where pupils are made think about how different scenarios will affect people around them. To find out how this subject is taught in schools, we interviewed Ross O’Donnell from JESS, Arabian Ranches in Dubai. Find out more about some of the new programmes rolled out in schools in our chat below...

What do you love most about being a teacher? 

In my new role as Deputy Head teacher at JESS Arabian Ranches, I am enjoying the wider aspects of school life which the job entails such as leading professional learning and working alongside a broader spectrum of individuals from across the school community on a variety of exciting projects and initiatives. It has been great getting to know the children, staff and families at the school and I am throughly enjoying working alongside them.

We know innovation is here to stay! It has quickly turned into a household word and is also quite commonly associated in various fields. What is your take on this? What innovative practices have you implemented recently and how have these improved student/teacher performance?

Our take on innovation at JESS spans across everything that we do and challenges the traditional norms and assumptions associated with schools and teaching and learning. Some of the many innovative practices that we have been implementing recently include using virtual reality to enhance the writing process in the Primary School, using Microsoft SharePoint as an online platform for sharing and collaborating on documents and developing new ways to save and analyse student data. These innovations are having a positive impact on student performance and have enabled our teachers to develop their professional skills and practice. 

The new school term in the UAE commenced this September. What are some of the new changes that were brought into the curricula, classrooms & what is expected in the new term?

We have several exciting new initiatives that have been introduced this year and other areas of the curriculum that we are continuing to develop. Like other schools, we are teaching the UAE National Education and Social Studies curriculum and we are developing ways to embedded this learning further into our curriculum here at JESS. In addition to this, we are also teaching the Moral Education curriculum that was introduced recently and we have dedicated time in our school day to focus on these two initiatives. 

We are also continuing to focus on exploring new forms of technology to enhance learning. In the Primary school these include Neo Bear's World Tour in 3D and AR Globe as well as new online platforms for teaching coding to some of our youngest children. In addition to this we are working towards becoming a Common Sense Ambassador School to focus on esafety.

Finally, we have launched our ‘Making a Difference’ (MaD) award and programme this academic year. MaD is a bespoke curriculum that we have developed to promote the learning of life skills. It spans Primary and Secondary school and is a progressive continuum of skills for the children to practice and master. Children are invited to share their evidence via show and tell or on digital platforms such as Seesaw and have the opportunity to earn badges and medals as they progress. It has already been a huge success and we look forward to seeing it progress and develop over time. 

There was been a lot of talk on the implementation of moral education as a subject. We know the content and way of teaching will vary from school to school. Please can you tell us more about how this subject is being taught in your classrooms & it’s importance in society?

We have enjoyed implementing Moral Education in our school and see huge value in the content that it brings. We have dedicated time during the school day to teach Moral Education and our year group teachers plan their lessons collaboratively. We are also designing our assembly programme to support and enhance the teaching of Moral Education throughout our school. Our teachers also use Year Group assembly times to continue the teaching of Moral Education in more depth. 

The curriculum itself is incredibly innovative in that it is aimed at teaching universal values and ideals to children of all ages. This idea is incredibly important in a country as diverse as the United Arab Emirates. Our school has over 70 nationalities represented in the student population and the Moral Education curriculum will help us to ensure that our students develop into honest, tolerant and respectful individuals. The Moral Education curriculum is also helping our students learn about the importance of communities and the cultural and heritage of the country we all call home.  

How important is mindfulness to your students? We hear you have an expert on this at your school and would love to hear all about it!

Mindfulness is an area of school life which we have been prioritising recently. This has included appointing our Well-Being coordinator, Ashley Green, who is working across JESS Jumeirah and JESS Arabian Ranches to lead initiatives for students and staff.  Children and staff have been introduced to mindful practices such as mindful eating and mindful movement. There has been a focus on positive self-talk and the school will be taking part in 'The Heart of Mindfulness for Youth week'. Ashley was part of a team who presented in China with KHDA, representing JESS at the International Positive Education Network (IPEN) Conference. 

We have also employed a team of school counsellors to support the wellbeing of children and families in our school community. This team runs regular parent workshops on a range of topics. In addition, we are also conscious of the importance of promoting mindfulness with our staff. We currently run yoga sessions and a boot camp for teachers at the end of the school day. We also have our JESS Joggers staff group who meet every Friday morning for a run at the beach as well as other sports teams and initiatives running throughout the week. 

What are your views on Health/fitness for the wellbeing of students & making them better learners? The same applies for Dance, Drama, Choir – how does this help for inclusion?

Health and fitness plays a large role in what we do here at JESS and is an integral part to student wellbeing. Our school day maximises opportunities for our children to take part in sporting activities as well as dance, drama and music. We are proudly hosting the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS) Games this term with schools from the region coming to JESS to compete in a range of sports. We also regularly host concerts and plays for the children to perform in including our recent JESS Music Day. JESS Music Day involved children from across the school practising and performing a concert to parents all in one day. 

We have an extensive extracurricular programme which runs before and after school, offering a range of sports and other health related activities to our students. These clubs are run by our teaching staff and are a great way for teachers and children to get to know each other better which can have positive impact on learning in the classroom. 

What tips would you like to share with other educators?

Teaching is a profession which is continually changing and adapting and therefore as a teaching professional I am a huge advocate of lifelong learning and continuous professional development. One of the best forms of CPD I have taken part in in recent years is joining Twitter. It is free, completely tailored to your needs and interests and can be accessed wherever and whenever you like. I always highly recommend joining Twitter to teachers as I see it as a great form of CPD.