An interview with Beat Sommer, Head of School at Swiss International School Dubai
8 February 2017
|Last updated on 19 February 2018
We spoke to Beat Sommer, Head of School at Swiss International Scientific School and gathered some interesting perspectives on what it is that makes schools a valuable foundation for children.
The Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai is a leading international school where future generations are inspired to become confident and enthusiastic life-long learners, ready to embrace the opportunities and challenges in a global world. We recently had the chance to speak with Beat Sommer and took the opportunity to ask him a few questions. Read below to find out what he had to say...
Principal Talk: Beat Sommer, SISD
How long have you been in the profession? Tell us something about yourself.
Born and raised in Zurich, I followed the highly reputable Swiss state educational system. My interests lay mainly in literature, linguistics and languages. Motivated by a desire to “educate rather than lecture”, I started my career in education with the ambition to improve the model of teaching I had been given. Throughout my 30 years of experience in the public and private education sector in Switzerland, Brazil and the UAE I have aimed to share my passion to accompany and inspire children in their learning process.
After three fantastic years with the Swiss School in Sao Paulo, I returned to Switzerland in 1991 as Head of Boarding at the Swiss International Boarding School Lyceum Alpinum Zuoz, where I successfully launched the first girls boarding facility. In 1998, I moved back to Zurich to lead the Freies Gymnasium Zurich as Head of School, managing 500 learners and 100 staff members.
After 6 years, and motivated by the desire to move forward in my career, I happily returned to Zuoz as Head of School managing 200 boarders, 100 day students and 100 members of staff. In 2014, I left Switzerland for a new challenge in Dubai as Head of the Swiss International Scientitifc School and have not looked back since!
Coming to the burning question of the hour... Do ‘smart’ tools (iPads, internet etc.) make children smarter?
These days, with the toddler, acknowledged as the family's tablet expert, children often learn to navigate the internet before they learn to read. Research shows that most young children in Western countries have access to a touch-screen device and that using these devices could be more addictive than watching television. On the other hand, digital media can help children maintain attention and excitement with books. It is obvious that children's perception of books has radically altered and that technology can be harnessed to help children learn in better ways, its potential is limitless.
Childhoods are being dramatically affected because of what children access on the internet. Therefore, it is up to us educators and parents to accompany our children’s digital journey and ensure that it is safe and makes them smarter, happier and kinder.
There is not one right way to teach and variations in approaches are natural due to numerous contextual factors such as curriculum, students, subject content, classroom dynamics, culture, and school characteristics. The practice of teaching and what it means to be a good teacher has been discussed throughout history from Socrates to the Swiss philosopher Rousseau. At times and among certain people the misconception that there is only “one way” to be a good teacher has been propagated. However, many different styles and philosophies can result in effective teaching.
The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a non-profit educational foundation, motivated by its mission to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. In this context, excellent teachers are generally defined as those that encourage and care about learning and about their students. Facilitating and enhancing students’ learning is the crucial goal of the art and science of teaching.
Parents- when should they ‘cut the cord’ and why?
Our long term goal is that we equip our children with the skills necessary to be independent learners and thinkers. This is a collaborative effort between home and school, helping the child to realise that while we are always there to support, it is good to take risks and explore. As every child is different, there is no fixed time or age for when the cord will be cut. From an early age, routines and small responsibilities are given, for example, our students in PreK are responsible for putting their water bottles in the box when they arrive at school, and for finding an activity.
What is the best way for a school as a whole or a teacher individually to handle ‘challenging’ students?
Most children respond well to clear expectations and boundaries when they are outlined in a positive way. Rather than saying: 'Don't run" say "Please walk in the corridors'. This way the emphasis is on what is good rather than what is bad. At the beginning of every school year, class teachers enter into essential agreements with their students. Being involved in this process makes the students feel involved, important and responsible for what is happening in their classroom rather than the teacher telling the class what the rules are and the punishments for breaking them. Praise and positive reinforcement are also key to promoting good behaviour.
Above all, being patient, calm and consistent are of the highest importance. Children and adolescents have a great sense of 'fairness' and want to be treated accordingly. Breaking an agreement should have consequences, but they should be explained in a way that students understand what went wrong and how they can make it right the next time.
What is the importance of sports and extra-curricular activities in the development of a child?
After-school activities like languages, mad science, programming, robotics, 3D printing, sports and the arts are all invaluable opportunities for children at SISD to reinforce or support lessons learned in the classroom. Facilitating a healthy mix of these will offer students the chance to apply academic skills in a real context, or help them to develop the teamwork, creativity and lateral thinking that can translate to better results in the classroom and in later life. Participating in physical after-school activities like sport, can in turn lead to better academic performance as a result of increased brain function and concentration levels. Moreover, sport can teach children important lessons like team work and learning to appreciate different strengths in their peers.
While we are unwaveringly committed to strong academic outcomes at SISD, we are also passionate about the children to engage in a cross-section of activities and disciplines in order to truly evolve into well-rounded, skilled and cultured individuals. In Dubai, we have an enviable waterside location adjacent to the Creek, meaning our students will eventually be able to take advantage of a boat house and an array of water sports on offer. In addition to a host of sports, cultural, arts and linguistic activities, SISD is also providing computer coding and environmental awareness sessions, recognising the needs of the future generation.
What do you think is the best way for children to maintain a school-life balance?
As the world becomes increasingly globalised and competitive, it’s no secret that parents and teachers alike can be guilty of pushing children to study relentlessly. This is why we ask parents to consider the importance of supporting their children to strike a healthy balance between work and play, in order to achieve the best academic results and propel them into a well-rounded and successful start to life. A school is so much more than just the learning in class. At SISD, we strive to build a community of global citizens who lead a healthy lifestyle and are respectful of others as well as the environment.
Homework can teach students how to manage their time efficiently, which is a crucial skill in the workplace. It also helps students develop important habits of self-discipline, organisation and independence.
SISD offers a bilingual curriculum. How do you think this benefits the students?
Children learn more in their first 2,000 days than in any other six-year period in their life. Studies have shown that children who are educated in a multilingual setting are more apt to learn new languages later on in life. Multilingual minds have been found to be more nimble and adaptable, they are better problem solvers and have better memories. Their ability for planning, impulse, focus and learning to discard irrelevant information is enhanced. The bilingual brain is more flexible, it switches back and forth between two languages and allows children to think and speak in each language versus translating between languages.
The school campus has been designed by leading architects, to maximize the potential of our generous plot in Healthcare City, adjacent to Dubai Creek. All of our students are encouraged to discover and develop their talents both during the school day and by taking part in our numerous after-school activities and sports clubs. Our vast sports grounds house an Olympic-size 50m outdoor swimming pool as well as a half-indoor, half-outdoor 16m swimming pool, 2 basketball courts, 2 tennis courts, a football/rugby pitch, an indoor and an outdoor running track, a climbing wall, a gymnasium, dance studios and a multi-purpose sports hall. We will also develop a range of water sports activities, such as sailing, kayaking, and paddle boarding to take full advantage of our unique access to Dubai Creek.
A stunning auditorium seating an audience of 550 will be home to the multilingual drama and music departments. It will accomodate an exciting and varied cultural programme for the local and international communities of Dubai. The full campus including the Boarding Houses, Auditorium and Secondary School will be ready by 2017.
What has been your proudest moment being the Head of School here at SISD?
The timely opening of the school with our 245 founding students was most certainly my proudest moment at SISD. I arrived in the UAE in 2014 with my wife to become part of the founding team of the Swiss International Scientific School Dubai (SISD), which at the time was little more than a premium concept and a plot of sand. Within a year we had a fantastic building, hired a wonderful team of international educators and recruited 245 students.
Professionally it has been a challenging and rewarding experience to build our diverse SISD family and implement our unique bilingual curriculum. With great registrations during our inaugural year and a continued increase of student numbers to currently 650 as well as steady academic growth, I am very excited to see what the future holds for SISD.
And finally, can you tell us a bit more about the teaching style and what students (and parents) can expect at SISD?
SISD is a truly international multi-lingual environment. Although all communication with parents is in English, parents are encouraged to learn the additional language(s) that their children are studying. In order to deliver fluency in more than one language, SISD starts at Pre-KG with play-based learning. At this phase there is an English speaking teacher and a native French or German speaking assistant. Starting from KG1 children receive one additional daily lesson of French or German as well as exposure to the new language in classroom activities. From KG2, a native German or French speaking teacher joins the native English speaking teacher sharing classroom time on a daily basis. Arabic lessons are introduced at this level on a weekly basis. From Grade 1 onwards, the parents have a choice of either the bilingual English/French or English/German programme with immersive language learning, or the English+ programme, that teaches French or German as another language.
The Primary School at SISD delivers the PYP (Primary Years Programme), which is based on six “Units of Enquiry” that explore content from the six subject areas. The Head of Primary, Sabah Rashid, who has taught the PYP curriculum in the UAE for 13 years and is a US educated and trained teacher, believes that the strength of the programme lies in the fact that students are actively engaged in their own learning. The PYP progresses each child from where they are in their learning and measures their progress individually. The PYP balances the acquisition of knowledge, learning skills and capabilities for life beyond the classroom, and conceptual understanding. Children learn to translate concepts into action and thus develop the skills of self-management, research and thinking, as well as communication and social skills.
Unlike the PYP, the Middle Years Programme is subject based. In the bilingual sections, Language & Literature, Sciences and/or Humanities are taught in French or German, Maths, Arts & Design, Physical & Health Education are taught in English. In the E+ section, all subjects are taught in English, with additional French or German language acquisition. Arabic & Islamic Studies are again an integral part of the MYP.
SISD intends to offer the Swiss bilingual Baccalaureate, a programme mainly targeting Swiss students, from grade 9 onwards as of 2018/19 academic year.
About the school:
The Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai is a leading international day and boarding school where future generations are inspired to become confident and enthusiastic life-long learners, ready to embrace the opportunities and challenges in a global world. The school offers the full continuum International Baccalaureate (IB) programme from Pre-KG to Grade 10 in English or in two bilingual English-French and English-German sections. The eco-friendly campus has been designed by leading architects, to maximize the potential of our generous plot in Healthcare City, adjacent to Dubai Creek. Home to more than 2000 students, including 200 international boarders, the school is built to meet the highest expectations.
Swiss International Scientific School
The Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai is a leading international school where future generations are inspired to become confident and enthusiastic life-long learners, ready to embrace the opportunities and challenges in a global world.