A real teacher is the one for whom every student matter, who goes out of the way to help every student succeed, who never gives up on students who struggle with their academics. Helping such students succeed along with the brighter ones, then gives an immense sense of fulfilment to the teacher. Made of such qualities is Darlene Sullivan, Head of Blyth Academy, who pursued her passion of teaching in meaningful ways to influence the young minds and to motivate her staff.
We got the opportunity to learn more about this inspiring personality who has made a difference in the lives of her students. Following are the excerpts from the interview:
Please share your professional journey so far.
I have been an educator in various capacities for the past 34 years. I began my chosen career as a teacher in Canada and knew right away that I had made the right choice. After 12 years of teaching, my passion and interest in research-based pedagogy that improves teaching and learning in meaningful ways motivated me to seek leadership opportunities outside of the classroom. This led to developing and leading successful professional development training programs for teachers, facilitating school improvement initiatives, and principal of a large school for several years.
My educational journey then brought me to the Middle East four-and-a-half years ago. I embraced this opportunity with enthusiasm and was excited to return to my roots of teaching as a grade 2 teacher at Blyth Academy in Doha, Qatar for the first year. It was a wonderful and very positive experience which segued back into leadership positions abroad. I became the Deputy Head for two years and am currently in my second year as the Head of School. I am an innovative and compassionate leader who empowers and encourages the staff to be the best they can be in a respectful educational environment. As a lifelong learner I look forward to my continued educational journey in leadership wherever that may take me.
What inspired you to step into the education industry?
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a teacher and I loved children. I had some excellent teachers growing up at all levels of my own education and saw how a teacher could influence the future of young minds. The relationships and connections of some teachers who showed they really cared and would go above and beyond to help their students succeed and reach their potential was what really inspired me to want to become a teacher; especially those who wouldn’t give up on students who struggled. Teachers who made connections with their students and were innovative in their teaching is what resonated with me and in turn what I strived for as a teacher entering the field.
Who was your role model growing up? What was the greatest thing that you learned?
I did not have just one role model growing up but several at different stages in my life. My parents, my grandmother, strong female leaders and various instructors and colleagues all taught me important life lessons and/or professional advice. Work hard, follow your passions, get an education, maintain a strong work ethic, develop positive relations, stay true to yourself, importance of family, do something you love, be happy, and always be kind. Striving to follow these traits from the people in my life over the years is what has given me the confidence to embrace new opportunities every step of the way.
Tell us about your institute/your association with the institute.
Blyth Academy is a Canadian School in the heart of Doha. It is an active JK-12 international school that embraces diversity, celebrates differences in cultures and engages students in their learning. Currently, Blyth Academy enrols students from 42 nations enriching the experience for all students to function in a global society. As a Canadian International school in the heart of Doha, we are very proud of our inclusive, nurturing environment and the sense of ‘family’ that we portray to our school community.
Blyth Academy offers a quality and highly recognized curriculum to students that focuses on the core subjects as well as others that will enhance their educational experiences and broaden their global perspectives. Students will develop literacy, numeracy, and competencies like critical thinking in each subject and grade. Students also receive robust programming and numerous opportunities beyond the classroom in athletics, the arts, music, drama and after school extra-curricular activities. Blyth Academy students graduate with a Canadian Government of Alberta high school diploma. This enables them to have the opportunity to attend some of the most prestigious universities and colleges worldwide.
Kindly share your views regarding interactive, online educational content and how it is gradually becoming the need of the hour.
Covid-19 has certainly impacted the delivery model of education as we knew it in multiple ways. Teachers were required to switch to fulltime online teaching and learning with very short notice and little training. They are to be commended for how they adapted and embraced the many challenges associated with transitioning to new platforms through distance learning models under these conditions.
The technology required has been more challenging for younger students than the older ones, and teachers had to rely on parents to support the daily distance learning requirements for their children. This was and continues to be a challenge for many parents who were and may still be required to work from home.
As most schools transitioned into a hybrid model, ensuring curriculum content was covered, assessment integrity kept intact, and managing both groups of learners simultaneously, became new challenges to overcome. Solid plans, technology infrastructure, significant training, and ongoing targeted professional development for teachers have been paramount in the successful delivery of curriculum to students both at home and on campus.
Teachers have discovered innovative and creative ways using various platforms to teach the prescribed curriculum and programs. It has shown us that the need for future methodology, effective online teaching strategies, and quality online programs that are engaging and supportive of core curriculum outcomes will be a crucial and integral part of education as we move forward.
Education is considered as a tool of empowerment. What efforts do you and the institute take to make sure that education is provided to those who need it?
As a private international school offering a Canadian curriculum, we open our doors to all interested international students in Qatar. We support and guide students from the moment they enter our school. Our school’s vision and mission along with highly trained and experienced teachers, ensure students reach their potential and set them on a strong path to post-secondary opportunities and lifelong learning.
What is the one thing that you would like to change in the country’s education system?
I would like to see a system for more collaboration amongst the various educational institutes in Qatar. More opportunities for educators to connect and support each other, but more importantly to share best practices and effective teaching strategies with each other either formally or informally. It would be fantastic for the numerous excellent educators in Qatar who have a wealth of knowledge, skills, and innovative practices to have the opportunity to discuss common challenges, successes, and ways to support each other on a regular basis. The benefits of this kind of networking would be invaluable.
What advice can you give to those who want to step into the field of education?
My advice would be to work hard and strive to be the best teacher possible. Making connections with students is paramount and do your best to help guide them in reaching their potential. Be kind, patient, and level-headed, follow your dreams and take care of your physical and mental health along the way. The field of education can be one of the hardest but most rewarding careers. Embrace the challenges and always stay positive! Look at the glass half full and seek positive mentors to guide you in your journey.
Please share what lies ahead of you and the institute in the near future.
As a community builder with a strategic vision, I hope to continue in being instrumental in leading Blyth Academy in Doha to fulfil its vision and mission and reach some of its identified goals. The school is expanding and with its world- renowned Canadian curriculum, new campus, strong, highly qualified and supportive staff. It will be one of the strongest and most competitive schools in Qatar. Maintaining its quality education as well as its safe and caring learning environment during the pandemic has proven its potential to build on what has been established and forge forward into a bright and promising future.