Most of us have been influenced and motivated by our teachers during our life. At times, however, we have also wondered as to what keeps these teachers motivated enough to see through batches of students, year-on-year. As any teacher would agree, no two batches are the same. Every set of students comes with its share of uniqueness, challenges, learnings, and above all, memorable moments.
When Australia-based Denise Roache received an opportunity to join a ‘start-up’ inclusive school in Muscat, it was one she was eager to take up as the challenge of being involved in such a monumental journey from the beginning. It was a new and exciting one for her. The fact that Paradise Valley Private School (PVPS) was also establishing itself as an inclusive education facility where typical students learn alongside those with individual learning needs was also appealing as their holistic approach aligns with my philosophy of meeting every learner where they are at.
The added advantage was that the location was a huge drawcard as she had enjoyed previous travels in the middle east and recognised Oman as a safe location with extremely hospitable locals who take great pride in sharing their culture and traditions with newcomers.
So here is Denise, Head of Elementary, PVPS, sharing her journey with the school and Oman so far.
What unique ideas have you implemented at the institute, as a leader, that is making a marked difference?
One of the unique features of our school is our Inclusion Policy. While up to 75% of our student community may be mainstream/typical, we also cater to students with diverse learning needs. We have students with a range of physical disabilities, others with ASD, or a diagnosis of ADHD and others with social/emotional needs. At Paradise Valley not only do we have education staff who act as Home Room or specialist teachers and teaching assistants, but we also have a very active Inclusion Team.
Our Inclusion Team includes a Special Education teacher as well as a very experienced Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist and a Speech and Language Therapist. While the Inclusion team has worked tirelessly with teachers, parents, and students to assess and create Individual Learning plans, perhaps our greatest success has been in the upskilling of our local teaching assistants.
As our teaching assistants work within an allocated class, they are integral to the implementation of our curriculum and ensuring the needs of each student are met throughout each day. Many have attended therapy sessions and professional development opportunities and have now become the ‘case experts’ on specific children.
Within a relatively short time, our teaching assistants have been enabled and have the confidence to share their expertise with other staff. Such collaborative engagement can only benefit all our students.
What aspects of your work-life do you find most challenging and how do you plan to overcome them?
One of the most challenging aspects of my role at Paradise Valley Private School is moving the perception of our school as one for ‘special needs students’ to one that caters for typical students as well as those students requiring mild to moderate support for behavioural, intellectual or social issues. Inclusive education in Oman is a relatively new concept with many of our parents desperate to have their children included in our innovative school.
Our staff passionately advocate for a diverse range of students to be offered a place at our school where we implement the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program from KG 1 through to Grade 4 as one of their candidate schools.
The process of becoming a candidate school happened within five months of our official opening and we hope that as we continue to work towards becoming an IB Global school that the community will acknowledge us as an inclusive facility that has something to offer everyone!
In your view, how has Oman progressed on the Educational front in the last decade?
My experience within Oman is limited as I have only been here a year, however, it is obvious to me that the Ministry of Education is very supportive of our holistic philosophy and has certainly welcomed our inclusive paradigm.
We hope that as we move forward beyond the constrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic that Paradise Valley Private School will continue to grow and can offer support to families with children with special needs who can go to school alongside their mainstream siblings, instead of at another facility. The number of International and Bilingual schools offering an international level of education to local and foreign students has also increased significantly in recent years.
Technology is an integral part of our lives today. How do you think the educational sector can utilize it to deliver an enriching experience?
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed schools across the globe to new and innovative technology platforms. For many, they have had to implement 100% of their curriculum online during varying lockdown periods around the world. It is an exciting time to work in education as there is a plethora of quality educational online sites, companies and purposes opening for use by universities, schools and early years facilities.
While I believe technology can be used successfully for academic purposes, we must not deny our children the benefits of developing sustained human connections that a holistic approach to learning encourages them to explore.
How do you perceive your career to be in the near future?
I look forward to continuing my association with Paradise Valley Private School as we seek to establish it as an IB World School implementing the Primary Years Program, then the Middle Years Program in lower secondary school and eventually the Diploma Program as we flourish over the coming years.
More about Denise Roache:
Denise is from Australia and has been involved in education for over 35 years; having worked in schools within three states of Australia, as well as in international schools in Fiji, Indonesia, Singapore and now Muscat, Oman. While her more recent roles have had her working in a formal leadership capacity, she believes that when working in schools, we all have a teaching role and should be open to learning from colleagues and our students.
The highlights of her professional journey include working in an indigenous school in the Northern Territory of Australia, as well as meeting and working with a range of exemplary teachers and staff within very diverse cultural settings within Asia and now the middle east.