Sandra Sheppard likes keeping things simple. Now on her tenth year as Primary School Principal, she has witnessed and was significantly instrumental in the growth of Qatar Academy, overseeing a student body of over 800 and guiding them as they complete the Primary Years Programme.
But when asked what the best thing about being in QA is, the educator in her automatically answers, “I love the students and the community we’re creating here”.
Mrs. Sheppard, as she is fondly called by students drifting in and out of her office throughout the day, is no stranger to the constant change that is ever present in international schools. Hailing from New Zealand, she studied at Waikato University in the city of Hamilton where she did a Kindergarten teaching qualification. This was followed by a teaching degree, then a Masters in International Educational Administration. The first 10 years of her career were spent teaching in Kindergarten schools in New Zealand. Her international career started when she was hired to facilitate the opening a new Preschool center in the city of Jakarta, before moving to a new role as an Assistant Principal in a bi-lingual IB school in the outskirts of the city.
After 6 wonderful years in Jakarta she moved to UAE where she worked for the American University of Sharjah for 4 years. By the time she moved to Qatar and became Principal in 2007, QA has somewhat become a microcosm of Qatar: always expanding and constantly looking for ways to improve itself, challenging Sandy in the process.
“I like the fact that I know the community well so I feel comfortable here. I like Qatar; it’s very easy to live here and I enjoy all the growth within the school,” she shares. Although the very nature of an international school means there will always be new faces – teachers and students alike –Sandy believes the PYP is crucial to the school’s sense of community.
“The program and the good people we have that are in leadership roles here bind us together. They make sure that teachers feel cared about. And as administrators, we really care about whether they’re happy here, professionally developing, or if they need support in their area”. Referring to an attribute taken from the IB Learner Profile, she adds: “I think we just always try to be caring. I think that’s a big thing – we try to do simple things for them so they can be their best in educating our students”.
A caring attitude is also what she looks for when hiring new teachers. During recruitment fairs, Sandy says it only takes a few minutes to determine if a prospective hire would fit into QA’s community. After all, she’s not only after a good teacher with a pleasant personality and solid experience. “It’s hiring a good teacher for, let’s say, Grade 4 that would fit with the Grade 4 team here in QA. But always, I am looking for people that care. I am looking for passion. I am looking for driven people that are committed to student learning”.
Outside the principal’s office on a December morning, the students are abuzz with excitement, looking forward to the winter break after celebrating Qatar National Day with food and traditional activities. Mrs. Sheppard checks the time and sees it is almost recess so she gets ready to facilitate the students leaving class for their break. It is a routine task but crucial in reinforcing the message to the students that everyone working at Qatar Academy is here for them – from their teachers to the principals. And if it’s for the students, then it is part of her job.
“At the end of the day, we’re all here for one reason,” she muses. “We’re here to educate the students.That is the most important thing and I say that to the teachers all the time. We’re a school and students are at the center of everything we do. Around the students are the teachers who are delivering the curriculum and everything that helps a student learn. And then I am just outside and my job is to help out and make things easy so that the teachers can concentrate on educating the students”.