News: Bill and Alison Turner: A Global Education Power Couple - Mar 11, 2020
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Wednesday, March 11, 2020General News

Bill and Alison Turner: A Global Education Power Couple

They are Associates with SEARCH because they have been through it all: those first teaching positions, those years of full-time teaching plus professional development, those bold reaches for the next level, and the challenging times once they were in the captain’s seat. Alison and Senior Associate Bill Turner share an unstinting passion for teaching, a grand sense of adventure, an inclination toward risk-taking, and great flexibility. Along with their story, they’ve got great advice to share.

Bill wittily explains how he first got involved in the field of education:

Through the British Council, I secured a position teaching English in a small, rural town in Sudan. I was 21. I shared a mud-floored home and scrappy yard with two other teachers from England, 10 chickens (fewer by the time we left) and two dogs. I was responsible for 50 enthusiastic students to whom I tried very hard to teach English.

Alison’s start was only a little less unusual. From the age of 18, she knew she wanted to be a teacher. With memories of her second-grade teacher as her greatest inspiration, Alison crossed the Pennine Hills in northern England from York to Manchester to earn her Bachelor of Education. Nine years of teaching later, she stepped—or rather leapt—into leadership as Deputy Headteacher of two schools, which, she says, “quite quickly resulted in my first post as Headteacher at the age of 34. My learning curve was very steep!” In an amazing primary school, in a very socially-deprived part of England, Alison says she “cut her headship teeth very quickly.” The school was an oasis in a community rife with high unemployment and low morale. She recalls,

We worked hard to have a positive impact on the children and their families and enjoyed making a difference in every way we could.

Alison went on to lead a larger community primary school before moving to Dubai as founding Head of Primary at GEMS Wellington International School, followed by appointments as Executive Primary Principal across the 3 Kings’ Schools in Dubai and Founding Principal of Denla British School in Bangkok.

In three schools over a period of 18 years, Bill taught secondary English “quite well,” and drama “quite badly,” says he. He rose through positions as Head of English and Assistant Headteacher to become Deputy Headteacher of a school in the west of England with a student population of 1,300. Bill then moved to Qatar to be Secondary Headteacher of Al Khor International School. As Bill reflects on his time in Qatar, his love affair with international education is apparent.

It was a fantastic school with students predominantly from Indonesia, the Middle East, and the children of the Western teachers. We had motivated and energetic teachers who provided a great service to the students by being given plenty of freedom to be inventive and creative, within a system of responsibility and accountability. Qatar is an extraordinary country that, a bit like the UAE, is spending its new-found wealth smartly in order to invest in its people’s futures.

Bill next moved to Dubai to become Middle/High School Principal at GEMS World Academy before taking the post as Founding Principal of Kings’ School Al Barsha, Dubai. Bill and Alison agree that the most challenging years of their careers were about opening new schools in Dubai, with its fiercely competitive context, very engaged parents, and students who are responsible and caring citizens of the world. They suggest that you do what has worked for them and countless other thriving international educators:

Always think two schools ahead, not just one. One function of your next school is to provide the right springboard for the subsequent one. Think strategically for your career.

Between them, Bill  and Alison have four grown children who live in London and Dubai. Having been raised as Third Culture Kids, the four are now internationally minded, global citizens.

By 2016, the Turners had a total of 22 years’ experience, leading five schools in two Middle Eastern countries, covering three curricula within both primary and secondary. Two of these schools were startups. Alison had just been offered a new position to open a school in Bangkok when Bill was invited to take over the Dubai Search Associates fair and the Middle East Search Associates office. Twelve months later, Alison joined the Dubai office, and they have run it together ever since, providing advice and support to candidates and schools alike. Alison and Bill’s response to the most commonly asked candidate question —Is it safe there?”

Ask if you can talk to candidates already at the school. They are best placed to answer this question in a way that is helpful for you.

Seizing every opportunity to explore new parts of the world as they work, Alison and Bill call themselves digital nomads. They say their Dubai office is wherever their two laptops are parked! And prepping candidates is their jam:

Imagine two recruiters talking about you. What would you like them to be saying? Think of three words or descriptions to capture your professional values. Then ask yourself: do you convey these clearly in all your verbal and written interactions with recruiters?

In the past three and a half years, the Turners have visited 263 schools—many of them more than once. Their main touring seasons are the autumn and spring, in the UAE and surrounding countries. During those tours, Alison and Bill spend hours and hours in coffee shops meeting teachers. They see this as important in enabling Search Associates (SEARCH) to represent its member schools with integrity and up-to-date knowledge, and teachers really appreciate the fresh perspectives such visits bring them.

The Turners invite you to check our website for the upcoming dates of our Search Dubai fairs. They have moved the event out of a hotel and into a great school, Deira International School in Festival City. Search Dubai is eco-friendly, with a minimum of paper and no single-use plastic.

Bill and Alison want to help you be that candidate schools can’t live without:

Being ‘curriculum bilingual’—for example, fluent in U.S. Common Core or British curriculum, plus International Baccalaureate—is a strength, just as being able to play two or more musical instruments makes you a well-rounded musician. As a curriculum bilingual educator, you are able to approach curriculum and learning questions from very different philosophical and practical stances.

The same motivation that drew Alison and Bill to education in the first place—that sustained them from their first teaching jobs through all their headships—remains the same now that they are with Search Associates: to provide children with fantastic opportunities to learn and grow, and to try and do a better job with the world than previous generations. In order to make that happen, they say,

Teachers need to be looked after and guided well. Making the decision to leave home and live in a different country is a huge one, so teachers deserve to be carefully and sensitively coached to ask the right questions and make the right decisions for themselves. We feel privileged to be able to use our experience in this way to guide SEARCH teachers.

Did You Know…?

Senior Associate Ray Sparks's over 30-year career as an educator has involved working in Canada, Europe, and Asia.