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In Conversation with… Fiona Cottam, Principal at Hartland International School & Speaker at GESS Dubai 2018

We had a great conversation with Fiona who is going to be speaking at GESS Dubai in case you didn't know. The link to her talk is below. Find out how she found a passion in Education while growing up and some exclusive details on her session titled, “The importance of teaching performing arts: happiness, confidence and leadership’’. Only at GESS Dubai!!

Check out Fiona's talk here: http://www.gessdubai.com/fiona-cottam


Please tell our readers a little about yourself, Fiona…

I have been involved in education all my life and remain as passionate and excited about learning as I was when I first entered the teaching profession many years ago. A global citizen of Ireland, my teaching and leadership career began in the UK following my degree in Classical Music and English Literature at University College Dublin. Moving to Dubai in 2009 with my husband and son, I believe that I have continued to develop professionally due to the high quality experiences that I have been privileged to experience whilst working first for GEMS Education and now as Principal at Hartland International School.

What does a day in the office as the Principal of Hartland International school look like?

Thankfully, no two days ever really look the same. Sometimes there are the required administrative tasks and meetings that all Principals must undertake to ensure the effective smooth running of day-to-day operations, but every day there is the opportunity to engage with students and the wider school community. There really is never a dull moment; whether that is through my being in great lessons, walking the corridors during the day, meeting with parents and visitors or even playing the role of a Pirate for Year 2 Topic work which resulted in me quite literally walking the plank into the swimming pool! My job truly has got to be the best job in the world.

You have been in the Education industry for some years. How has your career journey been so far? Where does your passion for education stem from?

My passion for education was instilled in me I suppose by my parents whose support and encouragement and belief in the power of education allowed me to follow my dreams. I was lucky enough to have attended a high performing and exceptional school in my home town in Ireland whose reputation for Music was second to none and my teacher, Sr Mary Agnes, encouraged and challenged me to reach for the stars. These key influencers in my life encouraged my lifelong passion for Music and ultimately for education. My teaching career saw me take on roles such as Head of Music, Head of 6th Form and other senior leadership positions across three schools before finally becoming a School Principal in Kent, England in 2006.

We are excited to have you as a speaker at GESS Dubai 2018! Your session titled “The importance of teaching performing arts: happiness, confidence and leadership’’ has intrigued us… Are there any exclusive details you’d like to share with our readers??

I hope that my presentation will cause some thinking about the Arts in a way that perhaps colleagues have not done before. From the scientific analysis to the theoretical research, the empirical evidence to support the need for us to place the performing arts at the core of a necessary creative curriculum will at the very least spark discussion and debate. It may be that some will be tempted to engage in some audience participation, you never know !

Why must schools encourage extra curriculars like drama and art in their curriculum for students today? We’ve heard the phrase “all work and no play makes jack a dull boy” before!

All schools strive to offer a broad and balanced curriculum and the performing arts like all other subjects, has a integral place in that design and plan. In a very real sense, the arts involve significant hard work, dedication and commitment, therefore I am not sure that your quoted phrase fits with the theories of my research or the arguments that I will put forward. I see the performing arts as subjects that are just as challenging as the more traditionally thought of “academic” subjects – why not come along and listen and perhaps Jack will will have to combine hard work and play to become a leader of tomorrow !

What message do you have for all our readers and visitors at GESS Dubai 2018?

Discussions on components of curriculum design are integral to schools for today and the future. As leaders, we drive the curriculums of our schools and therefore have significant influence over choices and opportunities for students. GESS gives educators an opportunity to explore, discuss and debate these fundamental questions of curriculum design. I hope to learn from fellow colleagues over the course of the conference also and am excited at the line up and topics of fellow speakers.

Who are you hoping to see in your session and what can they expect?

I hope to see anyone who is interested in our youth, their growth, happiness and development. I hope also to meet with those who are considering curriculum design and change and how we might support building confidence and skills such as communication, leadership and creativity. Whether that means school leaders, teachers, researchers or innovators, all I hope would take something away from the session.  As to what they can expect, well, some foot tapping and dancing may be on the agenda !

Here is an interesting random question for you! What’s the most interesting thing about you that most people wouldn’t know? 

I am not sure if it the most interesting, but a little known fact is that I actually joined the British Police after two years of teaching on the Accelerated Promotion Scheme for Graduates. Four years later, with my Sergeants Exam in hand, I returned to teaching which I suppose was where I was always meant to be. I actually was awarded the Best Student Award at Police Training College which I guess just goes to show that education has always been at the heart of all I have done.

Is there anything you would like to add?

With so many challenges facing school leaders regarding what is important in curriculum offerings, I hope that my presentation will further open the discussions to prove just why the Arts should never be dismissed as unimportant or trivial in this fast and changing world.  If anything, I will demonstrate why their place in our curriculum offerings are crucial in the development of not just future leaders but in the well-rounded happiness of our youth.