Spotlight on a School: Misk Schools, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Professional development is key to reaching Misk Schools’ goal of nurturing the next generation of Saudi and world leaders, writes Richard Hester

Misk Schools new campus

In a few weeks’ time, Misk Schools will be moving to one of most advanced school campuses in the world, becoming the first organisation to be fully operational in Riyadh’s new Mohammed Bin Salman Nonprofit City.

Misk Schools, part of HRH Mohammed bin Salman’s Misk Foundation, was founded in 2016 and, from day one, aspirations have been high. Growth, on the other hand, has been gentle.

Today we are a relatively small school of just under 400, mostly Saudi boys and girls (Pre-K to Grade 10), based in a charming, converted palace. Given the new campus is futuristic, purpose-built and can accommodate over 1,000 students, things are about to change.

Pursuing a vision

Our vision is that by 2030, we will be a top school for leadership, enabling students to serve their nation and the world.

In order to achieve this, we have placed innovation and personalised learning at the heart of our strategy. We believe every child is talented and that it is our job to identify and nurture individual abilities, finding creative ways to ensure all students excel in their field.

“We have a teaching body that comprises educators from 18 different countries.”

One of the practical challenges with this has been that both innovation and personalised learning can mean different things to different people. We have a teaching body that comprises educators from 18 different countries and while this can yield diverse thinking and creativity, it can also make it difficult to establish shared educational language and secure agreement on pedagogical practices.

Finding common ground

A number of curriculum frameworks and approaches have been explored over the school’s short history. This was to ensure we found the right balance between potentially competing educational goals such as innovation versus rigour and curriculum content versus discovery.

“Staff do not just share and co-create, but challenge, critique and debate.”

Our solution has come through the adoption of High Performance Learning (HPL), a philosophy based on the premise that all students can be successful academically and in life. HPL has given us a common language and coherent framework within which professional learning communities at the school can flourish. In this, staff do not just share and co-create, but challenge, critique, debate and ultimately empower.

Teaching students to lead with purpose

The age-old question of whether leadership can be taught remains a subject of ongoing debate. While some argue that leadership is an inherent trait, we stand firmly in the camp that believes it can be developed through learning and experience, which is why we integrate leadership lessons along a student’s journey through school.

By deconstructing key skills, values and attributes of leadership, our curriculum partners from Inspirational Development Group work with our teachers, using a coaching methodology to plan lessons and units of work.

“Leadership can be developed through learning and experience.”

Through the systematic integration of leadership across the curriculum, gaps and duplication are avoided, allowing students’ leadership understanding and capabilities to be built upon and grow as they advance up the school.

Engaged teachers engage students

The students at Misk Schools, just like children in all the best schools around the world, are very fortunate. They are fortunate to have dedicated teachers who care about them, together with an individual class size of no more than 15 students.

“We build two hours of professional development into staff timetables every week.”

But students can be tough cookies. If their teachers are not engaged, they won’t be either. In order to keep our teachers engaged and enthusiastic, we incorporate two hours of professional development into their timetables every week, delivered through our on-site training centre, the Misk Schools Academy.

Teachers can choose from a wide selection of professional and career development pathways and have access to excellent training opportunities across the globe. In order to develop local teaching talent and help create a new generation of Saudi teachers who are amongst the best in the world, Misk Schools Academy also delivers a fully accredited post-graduate teacher training programme for Saudi nationals.

As it grows, the school continues to recruit English and Arabic-speaking staff from Saudi Arabia, Europe and the rest of the world.

Outstanding facilities support outstanding teaching and learning

Our students are also fortunate to be moving to a campus featuring 110,000m2 of buildings and world-class facilities, including sporting infrastructure that enables performance up to Olympic level in 29 different sports. Students will be able to cook, compete in e-sports, perform, play golf, make films, ride horses, develop product concepts, swim, design clothes, build AI robots and more.

“Students can be tough cookies. If their teachers are not engaged, they won’t be either.”

Even as a smaller school, we have always prioritised a very extensive co-curricular activities programme. Partnerships with many national sporting bodies have given students access to top-level coaching and sporting events.

They participate in other competitions and events organised by entities such as the Saudi Space Commission, F1 in schools, Mawhiba (the national foundation for giftedness), and the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence.

The opportunities they are exposed to are second-to-none in the Kingdom and have even included conducting experiments with and interviewing the first Saudi astronauts to go to space – live from the International Space Station.

Ultimately any school is judged by the students who flourish there and graduate from it. Students at Misk Schools will leave with the knowledge, values and skills they need to become leaders of themselves and of others.

Exciting times are ahead here in Riyadh. And moving to our new campus is just the beginning.