Mike Seaton – Guiding Students to Accomplish Their Goals

Location – Umm Al Shuwail St،, Doha, Qatar

Website – http://www.kingscollegedoha.com/

Contact +974 4496 5888

“Education is the most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world. – Nelson Mandela”

Past in a Glance

I have been fortunate to have enjoyed a successful career in school leadership, ranging from a Headship at a leading school in West Yorkshire, England, to a Director of Education (UK) post in which I oversaw the development of 12 British independent schools for a global family of schools.

It is gratifying that each of the schools I have served as Principal has gone on to become the independent school of choice in its area, including an independent school in the North of England that won a national award for excellence in the British Independent Schools Association Awards, and King’s College School Chengdu, sister school to the acclaimed King’s College School Wimbledon, which opened its gates for the first time with the largest ever opening pupil roll of any international school in the city.

It is fair to say that my route into school leadership was an unusual one. I was a relative latecomer to teaching, having earlier worked in the media and marketing industries for clients ranging from the British and Foreign Commonwealth Office to the English Premier League. Whilst this was an exciting career, there is no purer calling than teaching because of the opportunity it affords you to influence young lives right at the coalface. Being a Headmaster is just an extension of that privilege – your sphere of influence is that bit wider.

Contribution to the Organization

Every school leadership experience brings its measure of success and, with that, a fair share of challenges – each one completely unique to the school context. One of the great privileges of my career has been to undertake these challenges on a global scale, having led British independent schools in Great Britain, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, China and now Qatar.

All these experiences have been enriching, but I am particularly proud of the progress that we made at Brighton College Al Ain and, in England, at Huddersfield Grammar School.

During my three years at Brighton, the school transitioned from being a start-up on a dusty new campus to three consecutive ‘Outstanding’ inspection judgements, the seventh best set of GCSE results in the MENA region with its first examined cohort and its status as one of the most academically successful British-style independent schools in the world.

It was a terrific place to learn and work and, for a young leader as I was at the time, there is no better environment than a start-up in which to accelerate both your own learning and the positive momentum of the school itself. Leading a school that is already fully established, whilst every bit as fulfilling, can sometimes equate to ‘turning a tanker’, as you work with colleagues to overcome legacy issues and to then set it up for success. Operating a completely new school is a little bit different – if you get it wrong, it can be perilous, but if you make the right decisions, hire the right staff and are rigorous in your standards, the school can be firing on all cylinders far more quickly than one might imagine.

At Huddersfield Grammar School, in England, I presided over a first-time entry into the Sunday Times ‘Top 100’ for the school, which then enjoyed national media attention for curricular innovation and was selected in my final year as national winner at the prestigious Independent Schools Association Awards, for ‘Successful Change Management’. That was a proud moment.

About King’s College Doha

It was a great privilege to join King’s College Doha as its new Principal in August. This school is partnered with King’s College in the UK and so will always remain rooted in the traditions of a King’s College education. Our school can draw upon over 140 years of educational excellence that have been amassed by our British sister school and continues to be typified by the provision of an outstanding all-round education, modern teaching methods, breadth of opportunity and first-rate pastoral care for every child.

On the other hand, our expansion onto a premium new campus in August 2023 will present King’s College Doha with a stellar opportunity to evolve into a school that is not only rooted in the traditions and heritage of its sister school, but also embodies the ambition, innovation and expansiveness of our iconic new educational setting.

A vision is, of course, vital for any organisation: it is what we collectively aspire towards and allows us to test the value of everything we do. Our vision at King’s College Doha is that we will, in time, set the standard for British schools in the Middle East. In short, we will do so by being the example.

At King’s, we challenge our teachers and children to ask themselves the following question each day: what would happen if everybody was doing what I was doing? As a pupil, am I being the example with regard to kindness to others, behaviour, concentration and uniform? As a member of staff, am I being the example with regard to my professionalism, enthusiasm, innovation and daily preparation?

After all, being the example in a school environment should not simply mean asking others ‘what are you doing about lifting our standards?’ Instead, it is about being accountable to each other for being the example, regardless of the part we play in school life.

Challenges Faced

A common challenge for a leader of any organisation is encountering resistance to change, and your level of success or otherwise in tackling this will either make or break your improvement agenda.

One common mistake made by inexperienced leaders is to attempt to push through the desired change without first having worked hard to build a collegiate mindset amongst colleagues. For me, this means cultivating friendly staff relationships, celebrating the success of a range of individual colleagues, being flexible and taking the time to consult others properly.

In all walks of life, most people you encounter want to do well, both for themselves and their employer, and so staff will usually accept your ideas if they are seen to be well-informed, properly prepared and are well presented.

When dealing with this sort of challenge in the past, however, I have benefitted most from making comprehensive use of the school’s self-evaluation data to drive my decision-making on the changes that I wish to make. Intensive self-evaluation is a potent weapon that will add credibility to your cause and most reasonable people will embrace change if they genuinely understand the need for it.

And finally, personalise the change – explain what is in it for them! Will the change present colleagues with exciting opportunities for professional development? Even better, can you delegate leadership of the change to staff members as a means of driving their career development?

Source of Motivation

At the beginning of my teaching career, I was driven by a straightforward desire to do my bit to improve the life chances of those in my care and, as an English teacher, to really ‘sell’ the wonders of literature as a means of better understanding the human condition.

Being a Principal presents a very different array of challenges, not least as you are no longer working within the specificity of an academic subject and the nature of your influence and impact upon pupils in the school begins to take a different form. You begin to become driven by the ‘big picture’ and so the things that drive you also evolve.

For me, being an effective Principal in the 2020s means have a keen awareness of what is happening to childhood. Being a young person today is far more complex than it was for my generation. The explosion of all things digital has left many children whiling away the hours communicating online with friends whom they will never meet, engaging in increasingly addictive gaming habits and having their weight, looks and likeability crudely judged by those within their social networking circle, often unaware of what is happening until ‘likes’, retweets and shares place them centre stage.

But how does this look in practice? It means consistently creative and engaging teaching that inspires thought, provokes questions and fosters deep enjoyment of each subject. It means recruiting and retaining teachers who have incredible passion for what they do within an environment in which outdoor activities abound. And it means every child leaving with impressive life skills: confident at communication with adults, full of beans, diligent and ambitious.

Educational Scenario Today

Despite these manifest challenges, all too many schools approach education through an increasingly narrow academic prism. This is apparent within the maintained sector, in both the UK and the USA, where extra-curricular activities have been cut back, character-building residentials have faded and provision for the performing arts in such schools has been reduced.

It is also apparent in China and various parts of the Middle East, where the test-driven culture that operates in all too many schools is making childhood much more of an ordeal than it should be. 24% of Chinese students experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression in 2021 and, in Egypt, nearly 30% of high school students were suffering in this way in 2018 according to its Ministry of Education.

This is a global issue – and yet the world sorely needs its next generation of leaders to be happy, caring, confident and curious.

That is why I have always been driven to develop schools that can offer a salve to rising adolescent anxiety and digital distractedness amongst our young – schools in which the whole child is the whole point.

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