Building A Supportive Learning Community

RESIZED 02_10_2013_Rosie_Shellenberg_0007.jpgRosie Shellenberg, Principal of Qatar Academy Sidra, talks about the school’s ambitions for the future as it begins its second year

QatarAcademy (QA) Sidra has created a strong community feeling since we opened in September 2012. We were formerly called the community school and that’s exactly what we are. We have created a little family community and a great place to work.

We have had a successful first year with a great team of amazing parents, who are happy to help and volunteer with anything. They have started a Parent Teachers Organization, which will be implemented this year.

All of our parents work either for Qatar Foundation (QF) or Sidra Research and Medical Facility, so there’s a community feeling between them and they are very supportive.

We involve parents with events, inviting them to come to talk to me at our ‘Tea with the Principal’ sessions, to help to run concerts, or to come and do a math lesson or project with their children.

We held a music concert, a math and science night, and an art exhibition in which parents came and bid on art projects, with the money donated to a charity in Sri Lanka. On Qatar National Day, parents came and provided traditional foods.

Just having their support creates a positive climate and you know that if you need them, they will be there for you.

QA Sidra has overcome many challenges to open from scratch last year. As we begin our second year, we have achieved so much and have so much to look forward to. We opened initially in six classrooms at QA for a few weeks before we moved into our own school and it has been a huge accomplishment to run a successful school, despite the obstacles and space restrictions.

Starting a new school anywhere is challenging. You have to be flexible and adapt to change and you have to be willing to just embrace any problems. You have to take one step at a time. We are a new school, a new faculty and everything’s new. But everybody has stayed positive.

We have succeeded in training staff to use systems, such as the PowerSchool program used across QF to store report card information and share messages with parents. We have a website we keep up-to-date, all grades send out newsletters, and we have managed many successful events.

I have set a climate of expectations – it doesn’t matter what obstacles we face, we’re going to overcome them and move forward and that’s what we keep doing.

As we set out on this new academic year, we have grown, have plans to open new facilities during the next three to four years, and have changed our strategic direction to implement the International Baccalaureate. We have started planning for this implementation and the training that the teachers will require to deliver the new curriculum.

We have added Grades 7 and 8 and have refurbished a new middle school building, which we hope to open shortly to house the students. This will also include two science laboratories, which the primary school will also have the opportunity to use.

Setting Standards
The middle school students are very well-behaved, which reflects a great job done by the parents. The students have set the standard as the leaders of the school and have set a good example for the primary school.

We have also added broadcasting and journalism to the subjects we teach. These are really good courses to enable the students to grow and to practice English and public speaking. Broadcasting has been very successful in other schools and we decided to add it for this year. Our new journalism teacher will also help to develop our communications, and plans to create our yearbook this year, as well as a student newspaper and to create morning announcements which will go out across the smartboards in every classroom.

Next year we will be adding ninth grade and we will continue to add a grade level each year until the 12th grade.

I’m really proud of the staff here. We’re teaching the children how to make the best decisions and how to think for themselves. We are teaching them to dream beyond their current circumstances and reach higher than they believe they can by having a positive atmosphere and teaching them that they can do the work and they will be successful. I think the teachers are doing a fabulous job. My board is also very supportive and I feel that all of us have just one thing in mind – we want the school to succeed and the students to be successful.

‘Dreaming beyond our current circumstances’ is a philosophy I have lived by all my life and one that I try to instill in the teachers I lead and the students whose lives we touch.

Everyone has the power to dream and, with the right guidance from school leaders and role models, to reach those dreams. Qatar itself is a fantastic example of this philosophy. Qatar has had leaders who have dreamed big and the realization of those big dreams is taking shape in front of our eyes in amazing form.

QF is a large part of this dream. QF has built many facilities, including schools, universities, research facilities, state-of-the-art buildings and museums, all because they want the people of Qatar to dream big and to realize those dreams.

QF knows that this can happen with the realization of a knowledge-based society. This philosophy by which Qatar and QF are guided is one that closely mirrors my own educational philosophy.

As a school leader in this capacity, I see my role as, firstly, hiring outstanding teachers and school administrators and then, secondly, as providing the tools, scaffolding, and professional development opportunities that those teachers and administrators need to be successful in creating a school and classrooms where dreams begin in a student’s mind and then go a step further to be realized in actuality.

Qatar Academy Sidra’s five-year plan
Five strategic objectives:
  1. Ensure that students perform at the highest level of achievement.
  2. Recruit, develop, and retain highly qualified human capital.
  3. Ensure that all students become independent, reflective and compassionate problem solvers with an appreciation and understanding of cultural diversity.
  4. Establish programs for effective internal systems.
  5. Provide a safe and secure facility and infrastructure that allows for growth and expansion to meet the current and future school community’s needs.