The Leadership Series with Julia Knight
Tell us about your journey as an educator.
I began my career as an English teacher in 2004 after working as an LSA in my old secondary school. My inspiration to teach was my KS4 Deputy Head- Mrs Baxingdale. She was such a positive influence and gave me confidence, self belief and a desire to become a teacher. After completing my GTP and working in the UK, I decided to make the move overseas. As a family- we have never looked back. My love and passion for education has grown and flourished.
My career has been quite rounded, with experience in both middle and senior leadership roles across the academic and pastoral spectrum of education in UK and international settings. I began my career as a senior school teacher and moved to EYFS and then juniors- I have the utmost respect for EYFS teachers- I often describe teaching Year 1 as trying to herd flamingos.
Many colleagues asked me why I moved to EYFS and were aghast. However I was laser focused about becoming a head of an all through school and knew I had to walk in the shoes of all members of the community to fully understand, appreciate and support as a head.
I am passionate about teacher reflection and self-development and truly believe that our profession is a craft and a skill that is best developed with research-based practice and peer mentoring. Teachers need conversations and a safe space to thrive – we should want the same for our staff as our children. I have a deep desire to see positive psychology used in schools and for wellbeing to become the norm for all members of the school community.
I believe wholly in leaving the ladder down and helping new teachers in the profession and ensuring there is a chain of mentors to support women in education. I am very much led by the trailblazers who shaped my career.
You recently made the move to Riyadh, KSA – Can you share some first impressions? Is there anything that’s surprised you about the region?
After living on the cosy island of Bahrain for 7 years, Riyadh was a shock to the system. But I’m a Londoner at heart and secretly thrive on the sights and sounds of the big city. Riyadh is dynamic and changing; you can feel the frenetic atmosphere. It’s an exciting time to be in Riyadh. I’m never surprised by the Middle East, it has its own unique culture and history which feeds into every fabric of society. I love how art, architecture and history blend but also point to the future. The Saudi Vision 2030 is ambitious and will place the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the global stage like never before and as educators we have to prepared for an unknown and changing future.
Can you tell us a little about your school, Beech Hall? Its values, ethos and what makes it special.
Beech Hall Riyadh is truly a unique place and I know that everyone says that about their school. However we are the first school in Riyadh to offer a non selective education which means no entrance tests for students- why? Because an entrance test tells a school nothing about the future potential of a child. We are fully inclusive- why? Because the world is diverse and beautiful- schools and future work places need to reflect the individual abilities of humans- everyone has a superpower.
Of course the facilities are world class and the staff dedicated- every school can claim that- however you have to see the learning spaces which are designed by Space Zero to truly understand that everything we do is centered around learning. Our learning spaces flip the notion of traditional education by accepting that imagination and critical thinking are ignited by creativity.
How would you describe your leadership style?
Empathetic and if I can say yes, I will say yes. I’m open and honest with staff about expectations, challenges and triumphs. I know I am only as good as the team around me and I’m always learning and listening. That’s not to say, I can’t and won’t take responsibility or make tricky decisions but there are always ways to be kind and be authentic.
When building a team, what character strengths/traits do you look for in your teachers and leaders?
Good teaching can never be defined by a tick box. Every teacher is as individual as the class in front of them. The elixir of learning and teaching is a ever-changing combination of empathy, passion, knowledge and relationship building. If I had to choose one- it’s rapport. The best teachers and teams are able to build rapport with the school community. They can confidently tell the story of the school and they all understand their why.
Where do you see the future of education headed? Have you seen any modifications to curriculum or approaches to learning that you feel positive about?
We are fast approaching the future- AI, automation and technology are combining with a deep sense of community and connection. We are beginning to accept that humans need down time and jobs need to be fulfilling. So our curriculum is based on the Chatsworth Tapestry that encourages our students to be digital learners, entrepreneurs and look after their minds and bodies. We know that examinations are part of the jigsaw of success but not all; we know that employers want critical thinkers, creative problem solvers who can tackle the big problems facing the world: climate change, food and water challenges- what we celebrate and nurture are the change makers in our classrooms. Inquiry led learning and the use of questions to probe and challenge is key alongside the robust curriculum.
Do you have an educational motto or personal life motto that you live by?
“And when you get to where you are going, turn around and help her too. For there was a time, not long ago when she was you.”
Julia Knight – Head of School – Primary & Senior Girls
Beech Hall School Riyadh, KSA