Timothy Roberts: Placing the ‘why’ of learning at the epicentre of teaching

Timothy Roberts, Principal, Raffles World Academy

Timothy Roberts is the Principal at Raffles World Academy since 2016. Roberts has held leadership positions in the Middle East, Europe and Africa and led schools following the British, US and IB curriculum. He is passionate about the IB teaching philosophy, where he has spent the last 20 years of his career.

A graduate in Business Education and Information Technology, Roberts also has a Masters in Educational Leadership and Management. He brings with him extensive experience as a teacher, head of school and as an inspector of schools.

Education Middle East spoke to Roberts about the different types of curriculum used in schools today, the use of technology in learning and the philosophy of international mindedness at Raffles. 

When did you realise that you wanted to be an educator?  

My mother was a teacher, so I guess it was somewhat in my blood. However, I was a late entrant to the teaching profession. I worked in the industry for several years before returning to university to complete my teaching qualification. I believe this gives me a balanced insight into the mindset of teachers and parents. 

Can you share some memorable moments from your professional journey across various continents including the Middle East, Europe and Africa?

It is interesting to compare and contrast the different values cultures place upon education. In the European context, education has been enshrined as a right for generations, perversely this on occasion leads to complacency in the mind of parents and children. In Africa and as I have been informed anecdotally India, this right to education, and the value it provides, is not so enshrined and families consequently place much greater value upon it. The Middle East is particularly interesting as the multinational nature of the region necessitates that a number of education systems (UK, US, IB, French, et al) thrive alongside each other. 

You have led schools following the British, US and IB curriculum. Tell us what’s best about each of these.

Honestly speaking, the differences are not as marked as one may imagine. My overriding belief is that there is no substitute for high quality learning and teaching. To do this you need to hire the very best teachers you can, develop firm relationships with stakeholders, and provide children with an environment where they can develop and grow in a safe, secure environment that allows them to take risks.

You have extensive experience in teaching, being the head of school and an inspector of schools. Which role did you enjoy the most and why? 

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I really enjoy inspecting other schools. It is akin to being given the keys to the candy store and being privileged to see all the great (or not so great) learning that is taking place. I always brought back at least one good idea, or initiative from these schools, which I then rapidly integrated into my own.

We are told that you are passionate about the IB teaching philosophy. What makes IB different from other curriculum and who is it best suited for?

I think the IB, with the focus on concepts and transdisciplinary skills, attempts to draw links between the various subject areas rather than have them exist in isolation. This should enable deeper, more meaningful connections to be made by the children, as they realise ‘Why’ they are studying a particular topic rather than just studying it because they have to.

Why the emphasis on international mindedness at Raffles?

The world needs to be much more cognisant of the different values and belief systems that exist.  Only then can we begin to understand them.  Once that happens, only then, in my humble opinion will human beings stop looking for conflict and learn to largely coexist in peace. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing children and adults from 80 plus countries coming together at my school as one large family. If only the wider world were as tolerant.

Integrating tech in education is always tricky. How can schools achieve the right balance in using technology?

I view technology a bit like a pencil or a pen (which in fact are technology themselves). In the context of schools, technology is a tool that should enhance and inform learning. If teachers evaluate their planning, and determine that this is indeed the case, then go ahead.  If the use of technology is hindering learning, then don’t use it. Additionally, I believe that schools and parents have a duty to ensure that children, and actually adults, are educated in what one may call technology etiquette.  

Can you share some tips for aspiring teachers who want to teach in IB schools?

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Teaching in an IB school is incredibly rewarding but rather daunting for new entrants. Do not be dismayed, I have found teachers to be very supportive individuals. They would be delighted to assist you in overcoming any challenges. The IB itself has community forums and a plethora of training opportunities to get you up to speed.