Monday, October 31, 2011

My Greatest Accomplishment?

I have accomplished several things professionally that I am very proud of, and I plan to accomplish many, many more.  I should say now that most of these have been done within teams, with other dedicated peers.  Occasionally though, I have been singled out for recognition, and I have been very proud.  When I am asked what I am most proud of in my career, one deed always emerges and I have difficulty articulating it as it was off almost everyone else's radar, and now resides squarely in that good part of my heart I selfishly hoard.
Six years ago, I went to join a former student and friend, Dr. Khaled Aldhahri in his efforts to resurrect a struggling school in London.  It was an incredible challenge laced with complex issues and politics, but so important to the future of several hundred children and a caring Islamic community.  I visited twice before I committed, drawn to the kids and their parents more so than the ego-tempting notion of "saving" the school.  After evaluating the school and its needs in context to its resources and challenges (one being a very large group of new and relatively inexperienced faculty) I joined Dr. K. in large part eager to work with the wonderful teachers and staff I had met there (new and old). 
We were facing a gruelling national school inspection, trying to transition from the UK and Saudi curricula to the International Baccalaureate Program, and faced massive physical renovation demands. All of this with a faculty and staff that had experienced a 60% turnover that year.  But there were stars in that place - Dr. K., Nariman, Tony, Bayan, Asha, Aseel, Naima, many others waiting to step up and take care of the school and the children they loved.  I was in the right place at the right time maybe for the first time in my life.  We did fantastic things: We passed the exam with very good feedback, we started changing the atmosphere, appearance, and safety of the school, and we made great strides in our curricular changes. We started a special needs lab and program, and we created a wonderful, supportive environment where we all pitched in working weekends and evenings together laughing at the most difficult tasks.  They were the most wonderful group of people I ever worked with.  And as impressive as these achievements were, none compare to the one we quietly took care of that year, the one I could never be prouder of.
The school had been advised by a consultant firm the previous year to segregate a group of younger students whose language skills were lagging behind.  Most of the children in the school were not native English speakers, but there were many who were new to the country and were struggling. The consultants hired several language teachers and created a stand-alone program that removed them from the primary classes for large parts of the day. The classroom teachers were working hard, as were the language teachers, but the children were not progressing adequately.  I learned this the day early in the term when I went in to teach a class on a day we had several teachers out ill.  It was a fourth grade class of girls I think, and on that day, the children were all together, not separated.  I had a wonderful time teaching them about the basics of letter writing, and I admired the young language teacher who came in to help me out. Despite the fun, a young face near the front row still haunts me today.  This young girl had just arrived from Saudi Arabia and obviously had no English at all.  She sat there helplessly through the lesson with the sweetest, sad smile on her face almost in forgiveness for the awkwardness I was imposing on her.  I wanted to hold her, to take away the terrible loneliness I had created for her.  I knew I couldn't, and I was so relieved when the language teacher came up to her, put her hand on her shoulder, and took away every bit of the sadness in that beautiful little girl's face.  I made my mind up at that moment.
The next morning I called Bayan and Tony into my office telling them they would get together Bayan's classroom teachers and Tony's language specialists and we were going to reunite those children in classrooms in a team teaching environment.  There would be partners in the classroom, not teachers and assistants. We would also create some very specific pull-out activities for some students at critical stages, but the kids would learn together with two professionals weaving a constructive and compassionate curriculum that would challenge and support them all.  With very little guidance from me, Bayan and Tony and their wonderful team created this environment in a matter of weeks! I have never been around a group who could have accomplished this, and I am very honored to have witnessed it.  At the end of the year, almost all of those thirty or so young ladies who were destined to repeat a grade, and maybe degradation, had passed.  And when the classes had an international fair replete with posters and demonstrations, it was all I could do to hide my tears when I saw a familiar face standing beside a colorful array of Saudi cultural items on a small table, slowly and carefully describing them in English with the most beautiful smile.
So this is it, what I keep in my heart, what I will show my God when he asks me if I ever did anything good.  Although the work was done mostly by others, under Dr. K's solid leadership, I had seen the need and trusted the right people with this task that was more important to me than any inspections, curriculum change, property renovation, anything. The details and results are mostly lost now, at least in the minds of most, but not in my heart.


  1. oh the details and results are not lost at all....just ask anyone who was present at that time and you will see that nothing has been lost.

  2. Well,maybe not on the owner of the gentle hand that alighted on that young girl's shoulder teaching a middle-aged man about compassion in a classroom............:)

  3. Surly you have done a wonderful job and you should be so proud of your touch on all of us at all levels.
    You showed us a life example of a passionate educator who worked so hard to make a difference..Would you please allow me to assert that YOU DID!
    Any fair minded person will consider you as a great member of the team.
    Deeply from my heart I pray that Allah reward you A LOT..

  4. Thank you so much sir! I do know this was a great thing we did, we did! I am so proud and honored that you gave me this chance to go to London to give this part of my heart to such a wonderful community. The memory of that little girl's face will forever lift my heart. I will be forever grateful. Your friend, Michael.