The path to university graduation must be full of opportunities that promise student success. This is achieved by providing state-of–the-art infrastructure and empowering skilled faculty to merge high standards with innovative teaching strategies. The outcome must be a stimulating, creative learning environment where students can achieve success in a changing world. Dover International School (DIS), situated in Cairo, Egypt, embraces the belief that university graduation provides a doorway to promising careers and also provides the skills and knowledge necessary to nurture life-long learning. Therefore, DIS has an obligation to all students to provide focused, innovative programing that will open the doors to post-secondary education.
Before establishing DIS in Cairo, the founders visited several schools, both public and private settings, in the United States and Canada. “It became clear that the objective was to create a learning environment that embraced community by establishing a feeling of extended family while strongly focusing on student success. DIS was built with the vision to create an international school in Cairo that would mirror the experience of what occurs in most North American schools,” shares Chuck Reid, Director of Dover International School.
The campus of DIS stands on 15,000 square meters of land in a residential area of El- Shorouk City. The school’s physical facilities consist of the central administration building, Pre-Kindergarten building, Elementary School building, Middle School building, and High School building. DIS has 51 classrooms, two art workshops, three science labs, three computer labs, two cafeterias, and a school library. The school includes air-conditioned and fully networked classrooms and large, well-equipped Elementary, Middle School, and High School library facilities. Two 100-seat auditoriums are used for in-house theater productions, student assemblies, and award ceremonies. “DIS recognizes the importance having a well-equipped facility that will support physical and academic development of our students,” informs Mr. Reid.
The school was founded with the purpose of ‘Educating for Success in a Changing World’. This mantra is rooted in Michael Fullan’s quote, ‘the only constant in life is change.’ “Our Direction guides DIS students to achieve success based on high academic standards through a culture that values integrity, empathy, and diversity,” reveals Mr. Reid.
Promoting Better Informed Decision-making
The ‘Purpose and Direction’ is embedded in all aspects of school life and is reviewed every five years. The monitoring of the communication and application of the Purpose and Direction is embedded in the work of a ‘Stages of Implementation Committee – Purpose and Direction.’ The committee ensures at the beginning of each academic year that staff, students, and parents have a short review of the intent of Purpose and Direction. Discussions with the students occur each September concerning what ‘Educating for Success in a Changing World’ means to them. Mr. Reid adds, “This exercise helps focus our students on the importance of using inquiry in their learning, making connections, and why project-based learning is an important teaching/ learning activity.”
At DIS, informed decision-making is based on three factors. School decisions are guided by ensuring alignment with its purpose, direction, and guiding principles. Secondly, data must be collected from all aspects of the school community, and thirdly, research must support any proposed changes in practice.
Delving deeper into the institution’s approach to informed decision-making, data at DIS is amalgamated and organized by applying Victoria Bernhardt’s four areas for collecting data; outcome data, process data, demographic data, and perception data. This information identifies areas of need, and a plan of action is put in place. Mr. Reid elaborates on the four types of data collection to help us better understand this unique model the school has in place.
- Outcome Data reflects student performance gathered from different types of formative, summative and diagnostic assessments. Examples may include, but are not limited to, educational assessments such as term testing, semester exams, project work, classroom work, homework, as well as more standardized assessments such as MAP (Measurement of Academic Process) and SAT (College Board – Scholastic Aptitude Test) / ACT (Global Assessment Certificate – American College Test) / EST (Egyptian Scholastic Test) testing.
- Process Data is the task of gathering information related to the effectiveness of teaching techniques, classroom supports, and programs. This data is based on research and is validated through monitoring the practices taking place in the classroom.
- Demographic Data speaks to the diversity of the students that the school serves. Examples that are considered include boys vs. girls’ performance, the effects of a second language, special needs students, and pupils from different regions of Africa and the world. This information is gathered through the school’s RenWeb system, where various groupings can be isolated and examined.
- Perception Data provides a measurement of school climate and the perceived effectiveness of the school from the various stakeholders who compose the school community. This information is gathered through surveys, group and individual discussions. Examples of this information are the results of parent, student, and staff surveys that are completed twice a year plus Stop, Start, and Continue parent telephone interviews that take place each week.
Mr. Reid adds, “For organizational goals to become embedded practice, it is also important to ensure shared ownership and accountability exists across the organization. Clear lines of communication must also be in place. This is achieved by establishing committees that monitor the new initiatives that are taking place in the school. Each committee monitors a particular initiative using the ‘stages of implementation’ framework.
The Stages of Implementation are divided into five sections below:
- Study Stage – Awareness
- Study Phase – current practice is still evident
- Review – Gathering information and data
- Observing and comparing current practice vs. new proposed practice
- Identifying and developing professional development plans
- Planning for implementation is taking place
- Implementation Stage – Beginning
- Current practice is still the dominant model. The new practice is slowly implemented in targeted areas and reviewed
- Professional learning is applied across all targeted stakeholders
- Planning for partial implementation is taking place
- Implementation Stage – Partial
- The new practice is eclipsing the current practice
- Further professional development is targeted based on group and individual needs
- Beginning to coordinate strategies with other initiatives
- Planning for full implementation is taking place
- Implementation Stage – Full
- The new practice is being fully implemented in all target areas
- All supplies and support materials are in place and regularly used
- Stakeholder conversation demonstrates a complete understanding of the practice/initiative
- Strengthen / Review – Consolidation
- Consistent application of the initiative in all targeted areas, monitoring, and review of the practice/initiative is taking place. “Sample templates are forwarded to individuals responsible for a particular committee. They complete the template and monitor the work as it progresses from initial/research to the consolidation stage of implementation. It must be noted that the stages of implementation may extend longer than one academic year,” explains Mr. Reid.
DIS continually strives to stand apart from its peers in this industry through targeted initiatives. One of these initiatives is the DIS partnership with Sir Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario Canada. Faculty members from the university visit the school twice each academic year and provide professional development for staff members. In return DIS teachers receive Sir Wilfrid Laurier Faculty of Education students in its classrooms as part of their Faculty of Education Internship. This reciprocal agreement has been taking place over the past six years, and has generated research opportunities. Providing a smooth transition from high school to university is a common goal of all schools. Another groundbreaking initiative that DIS has embarked upon is university partnerships. In order to make sure that our students can achieve the greatest success possible in their first year of university, DIS has come to an agreement with the British University in Egypt (BUE) and the Universities of Canada in Egypt (UOC) to track current DIS graduates who are currently enrolled. Faculty members from these universities have met with DIS teachers of grade 11 and 12 programs in math, science and English to create an alignment of university course expectations and the DIS high school program. Students will continue to be tracked to see how well this alignment is impacting on their success. BUE and UOC have been selected for this partnership as 30% of DIS Graduates have selected these universities as destinations of choice. Peer coaching is also an integral part of the professional development that takes place at DIS. This professional development activity has been highlighted in Dr. Steve Sider’s publication Peer Coaching in a School in Cairo – International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education 2019, with a follow up article scheduled for 2023. The school’s music program is delivered in partnership with the Royal Academy of Music and provides the students with the opportunity to receive advanced credit in university programs. A final example of how the school applies innovative professional initiatives is the measuring of GPA against MAP testing results to ensure the integrity of school assessments. Using a scatter-gram approach to analyzing data, this technique has been presented at two educational conferences held in Cairo.
Prioritizing its students and their success, the school ensures a balanced student-to-teacher ratio of 8 to 1. Additionally, the school has created the Dover Student Development Centre (DSDC) for students whose learning needs require more concentrated support. This department focuses on serving students with special-identified needs by applying a cascade model that embraces inclusive education. Integrating students into the school’s regular program is a priority. Specialized assessments and testing are provided by the school psychologist to assist in creating a full academic and social profile of the students. In addition, these students are afforded individualized educational remedial programs, physical, cognitive behavioral, occupational, speech and language therapy. All of these interventions are delivered in rooms that are equipped to meet specific program and therapy needs. Currently, one-hundred students are being serviced by the DSDC with needs ranging from mild to more severe learning challenges.
Stimulating Creativity and Innovation
‘Creative Expression’ also plays a vital role in students’ motivation to learn. Fostering innovation and creativity amongst students is another approach undertaken by DIS. In fact, the school utilizes a myriad of activities to ensure students are encouraged to be innovative and creative in their learning. Tools like the flipped classroom and collaborative learning are regularly used in the classrooms. Two activities monitored through the Stages of Implementation include Project Based Learning across all grades and Bloom’s Taxonomy being embedded in all lessons and assessments delivered in the school.
Project-based learning (PBL) is an instructional approach at DIS designed to provide students with the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills through engaging projects set around challenges and problems they may face in the real world. Mr. Reid proclaims, “PBL prepares students to accept and meet challenges in the real world, mirroring what professionals do every day. Instead of short-term memorization strategies, project-based learning allows students to engage deeply with the target content, focusing on long-term retention.” The application of Bloom’s throughout all classroom lessons and assessments ensures critical thinking and making connections are natural extensions of the knowledge and skills being taught in each lesson.
Assuring a Perfectly Equipped Staff
To ensure the teachers are fully equipped to cater to every student’s needs, the Ministry of Education in Egypt has mandated that over the next three years, all teachers must have a teaching certificate. At DIS, in addition to all teachers possessing a degree in their subject area of expertise, most of the school staff have completed Ministry courses that address the new mandated teacher certifications. In conjunction with this, two-thirds of the teaching staff are ESL-qualified. Expat teachers who possess an accredited teaching degree from their homeland, such as Canada, the U.S.A., Australia, Britain, and New Zealand are exempted from this Ministry’s expectation.
For all staff, the academic year begins in the second week of August. This ensures time is devoted to curriculum planning, peer and administrative conferencing, and targeted professional development. Professional development activities focus on areas that mirror the operational and academic program needs for the academic year.
Moreover, time is allotted toward professional development in each staff meeting. These scheduled sessions are open-ended, allowing teachers to share their chosen topics. Administration may also target a particular subject at this time. The topics identified by teachers are titled “Talk in Ten” (T N T). During these ten minutes, teachers share practices or programs they have found to be effective with their students. Mr. Reid notes “At DIS, professional development focuses on continuous improvement and takes place in many forms. We have a strong belief that professional development is most effective when aligned with school goals and individual professional needs.”
Keeping Parents in the Loop
Parents actively participate in their child’s academic journey by having access to their child’s progress through various methods of home and school contact. Regular parent communication takes place through daily postings on Renweb (info-based management system used by the school) and Google Classroom. These on-line platforms provide a daily source for parents to monitor their children’s academic progress. Monthly Parent Advisory Committee meetings provide an avenue for the school to engage parents in dialogue concerning policies, procedures and school activities. Parent Information Evenings take place through the year and focus on topics related to school program, university requirements and school events. Each of the Stages of Implementation Committees has parent representation to ensure the parent voice is heard. Regular calls using the ‘Stop, Start, Continue’ process takes place. Five parents from each division are contacted each week for the purpose of collecting perceptional data. Each week this feedback is examined by each divisional principal. At the end of every term, a report summarizing parent perceptions is created and examined by each school division as well as the senior administrative team. In May of each year, an overall summary of responses is used to inform the annual review of the school plan.
Rising Above Crisis Situations
DIS endeavors to continually stay abreast of trends and ever-changing industry requirements. DIS remained undeterred in the face of the Covid crisis. During the pandemic, while the education industry took a deep dive into chaos, DIS sprang into action! The school had to very quickly establish live online support. Google classroom was expanded; weekends were devoted to Zoom teacher training that was open to parents as well. Bandwidth for WIFI was increased and teacher in-service concerning what constitutes good online learning took place. Parents were provided with live online Zoom schedules and a hotline was established.
From September 2019 to February 2020, teachers conducted their lessons using Zoom. The delivery of these lessons was supported by subject coordinators and monitored by the supervising principals of each division. As vaccinations began to positively impact the number of people affected by the epidemic, the school moved to a hybrid teaching model from March 2020 to December 2020. During this time, students were placed on shifts and as much as could be accommodated, siblings were placed on common schedules. The hybrid model had students attending half an instructional day. This was supported using a flip-classroom approach and some online live sessions. Mr. Reid informs, “At the end of December 2021, it became apparent that COVID-19 was continuing to decrease in the school region. The Ministry of Health for Egypt had declared that schools had permission to return to full-time school attendance. Following strict health and safety restrictions concerning hand sanitization, temperature checks, wearing masks, and social distancing, in January 2021, DIS students moved to full-time attendance. Currently, DIS is examining ways of teaching in the classroom that can be recorded on video as a resource tool to address some of these challenges.”
Standing Tall and Proud
Founded in 2010, DIS is one of the leading institutions in Cairo. DIS has been accredited through AdvancED (recently expanded and rebranded as Cognia) for the past ten years. Mr. Reid proudly reveals, “During the 2020–21 school year, Cognia conducted more than 1,200 school engagement reviews for accreditation. During this period, DIS was acknowledged as a school of distinction along with 59 schools and 20 school systems that were recognized worldwide.”
In 2021-2022, DIS pursued a second accreditation to ensure that DIS is serving its community at the highest level. Through this academic year, the school community successfully achieved a seven-year accreditation from the Middle State Association. The focus of this review examined all academic and operational facets of the school. Through this review, the school developed and adopted an increased academic focus on reading and writing.
In 2021-2022, the school was also accredited by Pearson Edexecl, and in September 2022, a British stream for education was introduced to DIS. This was implemented as part of the school’s goal to provide more choices to its community. Expansion plans for the British School will take place over a 5-year period. The school is also expected to be accredited by Cambridge and Oxford by December 2022. Mr. Reid concludes, “Immediate plans for DIS will be the expansion of the British School. In addition, The Dover Student Development Centre (serving special needs students) is being moved into a new expand area of the building. Equipping and enhancing current special services will be a goal throughout 2022. University partnerships will be expanded, and the school is currently in discussion to examine providing our grade 12 students with online courses that will facilitate advanced placement in university.”
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Chuck Reid, Director
Chuck Reid is the Director, a Board member, and one of the Founders of Dover International School in Cairo, Egypt. Mr. Reid’s credentials include BA, BEd, and MEd, and he spent most of his 40 years in education in Ontario, Canada. During this period, he held many positions ranging from teacher, educational consultant, principal, superintendent of schools, and district director. Mr. Reid has also worked for the Ontario Ministry of Education, taught on the Supervisory Officers program in Ontario, and has spoken at educational conferences in Ontario, Canada and Cairo, Egypt. He believes preparing students to be successful in an ever-changing world must be built on a foundation of shared values and mutual understanding. For Mr. Reid, learning is not a destination but a pathway to continuous growth.