I’ve been the general director of Mayar International Schools in Amman, Jordan, since its founding in 2011. Our schools’ national and international academic programs serve more than 2,000 pre-K through 12th-grade students. One of our students placed third in the worldwide Maths International Advanced Level AS-Level scores from Pearson Edexce, and seventh in physics. Another placed first in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s General Certificate of Secondary Education exams for Arabic as a first language.
One of our biggest challenges is maintaining that high level of success. The education landscape is constantly changing. Educators need to continuously learn and improve so that they can keep pace with those changes and keep delivering the quality education students deserve.
That’s why MIS has amassed more than a dozen accreditations. Each accreditation helped us refine the way we approach academics. But our most recent accreditation, from Cognia, was designed to help us focus on the overall quality of our school. We met the challenge.
5 actions that lifted our schools higher
1. Learn new tools and practices regularly. We make a practice of adopting resources and techniques that promise to improve student performance and our organizational effectiveness. For example, we immediately began using a learning management system, a school management system and flipped learning when we founded MIS in 2011. Those tools and practices enabled a smooth transition into distance learning when the pandemic caused lockdowns.
During the lockdowns, our teachers adopted several new technologies, from apps to online games and activities. Once we were back in the physical classrooms, they asked me to buy extra laptops and iPads so their students could keep using those tools. Now whether it’s a pandemic, snowstorm or a student’s personal situation (such as illness) that prevents in-person learning, we’re ready to implement distance learning.
Additionally, during our accreditation process, we acquired a new classroom environment tool that appraised the whole classroom, including students’ experiences. Our previous observation tool only evaluated teachers’ performances, so this was a huge improvement. We also adopted new survey tools such as a climate and culture instruments, back-to-school readiness surveys and remote-learning surveys.
2. Implement comprehensive staff development. Although each member of the administrative team has a particular specialty, everyone went through training for the entire spectrum of accreditation standards. The comprehensive training has helped to mold many of my team members into true leaders. Plus, they can now support each other in different aspects of their jobs.
3. Make mission and vision into relevant guiding principles. It’s part of our philosophy to review the vision and mission statements every year and determine how much they still help us in our work. When we updated the statements eight years after the school’s founding, we sought input from multiple groups of stakeholders. Our public relations department released the revised document to the public through videos, social media venues, the school website and hard copies.
Although we updated the statements before beginning our newest accreditation process, I had already started reading the accreditation standards. That expanded my thoughts regarding our vision and mission.
4. Appreciate and highlight past accomplishments. It’s quite easy to move on to the next problem or challenge without stopping to appreciate what you’ve done. But when you do that, you only see that you’re struggling with different situations. Taking the time to recognize your achievements gives you confidence for future endeavors. Plus, being able to cite those successes will boost your institution’s credibility with parents and students.
5. Emphasize student engagement. We have observed that the classes students most enjoy are the ones that challenge them and keep them actively involved. We encourage our staff to explore instructional strategies that promote creativity, innovation and collaborative problem-solving.
School activities play a vital part in creating an engaging learning environment, so much so that during the lockdowns, we moved them online. We even held our school’s “Mayar’s Got Talent” show and our United Nations simulation online. In addition, we figured out a way to have some students do community service by having middle-level students tutor younger students online.
According to Cognia’s student engagement surveys, these approaches have worked. About 81% of the student population reported that they have a deep, personal investment in their own learning. The survey also found that 83% of students expressed both a love for the school and a sense of belonging. A similar percentage had a high desire to attend classes as well as participate in school activities.
Instructional progress even in a time of crisis
Our observation tools also revealed that MIS had a rise in effective teaching techniques, even during the worst of the pandemic. During the 2020-21 academic year, our score for active learning was 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. That rose to 3.5 in the 2021-22 academic year. In fact, our scores for equitable learning, high expectations, supportive learning, progress monitoring and well-managed learning all rose in that time.
Our students’ test scores have also risen. For example, students in our American program significantly increased their biology test scores from an average of 80 in 2019 to an average of 93 in 2021. Similarly, physics students had an average score of 85 in 2019, which rose to a score of 94 in 2021.
We are looking to the future with renewed confidence to reach new levels of success. I can say with certainty that the processes that we have put into place have helped the school, our teachers and our students to achieve success. We have a strong foundation now that we can rely on whenever we face a challenge.
I love MIS and I can see myself growing in this place. I used to think that one shouldn’t stay in one place more than three to four years. Now, I’ve been here for more than a decade because I recognize that staying in one place does not have to mean that you are simply repeating the same thing. Staying in one place can mean that you are renewing yourself in other ways.
Nadia Kharbat is the general director of Mayar International Schools in Amman, Jordan.
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