Giles Pruett: Confluencing Education with Inclusive Leadership

Tennis, Cricket, Athletics, Boxing, or any other activity that involves inter and intrapersonal coordination has something to teach, something to guide through, and something to educate leadership attributes into the masses.

As known to many, sports enthusiasts have been inspiring millions with their sportsmanship, and similar is the story of Giles Pruett. He himself is a graduate in sports science, which he pursued after dabbling in the professional sport for half a decade.

Inspired by international sports leaders who are always stargazed, Giles was deeply motivated by celebrities like Viv Richards, Sebastian Coe, and Muhammad Ali. Learning leadership from such an eminent personality, he has been leading the education space and enhancing the quality of UAE’s education.

He is a standout leader who has not only exemplified excellence in the field of education but also discovered agile ways of enhancing quality pedagogies with inclusive leadership. As the Executive Principal of Arcadia School, he ensures to instil his knowledge and experience for the betterment of students and the global education community.

Let’s slide into the journey of Giles and learn more about his leadership style along with his school ecosystem.

The Inception Story

From a young age, Giles seemed destined to become an educator, and the medium for this was sport. Inexplicably drawn to world-class athletes in the 1970s, such as Bjorn Borg, Viv Richards, Sebastian Coe, and Muhammad Ali, he was inspired to mimic their attributes and behaviours to become better athletes and competitors.

“In time, I realized that imparting technical and practical knowledge through coaching was equally as rewarding, and I was fortunate enough to have hosted tennis lessons for 5-year-olds when I was only 12 years of age, supporting a wily old tennis legend with sessions at my local club. This was the kick-start I needed to launch a 40-year-old career through different facets of education, landing me here at Arcadia School in Dubai as the Executive Principal,” says Giles Pruett.

After dabbling with the professional sport for five years, from the age of 17 to 22, after completing my A-Levels in England, it became abundantly clear that Giles’s heart wasn’t really in it. Something was missing, and it became apparent that this was the thrill of supporting the development of others and seeing the transformation of young learners. “Little did I know that this concept called the ‘protégé effect’ was driving my learning and making me hungry to understand more. This drive took me to University in Bedford, England, where I undertook a Bachelor’s degree in education focusing on Sport Science, Physical Education, and Human Economic Geography,” marks Giles.

This four-year program was perfect for Giles’s approach to learning, as being able to consolidate the pedagogy with a practical placement every year, created a superb environment for growth, collaboration, and action research.

Upon completing Giles’s undergraduate studies, he moved back to his home city of Bath, England, and worked for a year in the High-Performance Tennis Centre at Bath University before landing his first teaching post at a lovely independent school called Prior Park College. This was a seminal moment in Giles’s life, as he deliberately chose to move to the independent sector out of the state sector for one simple reason time.

Giles expresses, “It was not because the teaching and learning or facilities were any better, it was the fact that the learning day was longer, including Saturday morning school and afternoon fixtures, so that we could expose our students to more opportunities and a deeper learning experience.”

“These life experiences have driven my passion for the development of a curriculum that exposes, challenges, and creates an opportunity for everyone. A balanced curriculum is essential for this philosophy to be represented where the importance of cognitive development through the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and understanding are interwoven with real-life learning experiences and well-being alongside physical and emotional development,” he further adds.

Uplifting Education Structure, Empowering Society

Giles is known to be the true facilitator of quality education in every walk of his education career. He was fortunate to have started a career in teaching over the first decade in two outstanding schools, which were validated by a variety of external accreditations, including Ofsted, HMI, HMC, COBIS, and BSO.

The schools’ approaches to educational delivery contrasted, but in both cases, their familiar overarching differentiator was adding value to the students learning potential across a broad spectrum of disciplines. Neither were academic ‘hothouses’ nor were they fully selective. However, they were happy places, and the relationships between students and teachers were so positive and enriching that the children were able to thrive.

Giles’ mission has always been to support the transformation of organizations, whether by incremental change or wholesale re-evaluation of values and culture, so that the children within can experience inspirational and engaging learning. Much of this is achieved through curriculum adaptation and enriched provision, alongside exceptional teaching and learning.

As an educational leader, Giles is dedicated to inclusive growth and ensures to implement his ideas with strategic growth and his one of a unique kind leadership

Envisioning Holistic Development

Giles is true to the shared vision of Arcadia’s vision proposition of nurturing lifelong learning, the inspiration of the Chairman and Founder, Mohan Valrani. It is short and simple but transcends so much of what educators are trying to achieve in their organizations today, including inculcating 21st-century learning skills, futureproofing, and moving away from a knowledge fuelled economy to one of collaboration along with problem-solving and collective thinking.

Mission: The institution focuses heavily on inclusion, well-being, metacognition, international mindedness, cultural exploration, and exceptional learning opportunities.

Giles notes, “Upon arriving at Arcadia, we undertook a significant 5-year values audit with leadership, parents, teachers, and students all partaking, and the process eventually boiled down to the formation of new values: Altruism, Respect, Compassion, Aspiration, Determination, Integrity, and Adventure.”

He further explains, “We channel these values through our curriculum design, house system, learning practices, and rewards program to support our learning skills initiatives and enrichment. A strong example is our commitment to taking measured risks through the adventure initiative where students all learn to climb, develop collaborative skills through our cadets, support service-learning through the Junior Dukes and Duke of Edinburgh award scheme and facilitate community support by travelling globally to teach English and build schools.”

Weathering the Storm

Over the last 30 years, reaching a ceiling or perceiving a barrier to growth and development has happened on numerous occasions over the past three decades, and this tended to coincide with the next step in his leadership.

He reminisces, “I vividly remember the intricate application process for deputy headship as I strived to move on from three different middle-leadership experiences in my late 30s, reaching a logjam of contenders from all areas of education. It took over 75 written applications (all taking upwards of 7-8 hours to complete well), 15 longlist interviews, and 12 shortlist interviews before I finally broke through the ‘transfer market’.”

He adds, “Initially, each rejection was like a dagger through the heart, but after a while, you realize, this is all about good fit, timing and a small sprinkling of lady luck, being in the right place at the right time. The resilience required was astonishing; however, the experience gained and lessons learned could never be replicated. This was some of the best inadvertent professional development of my life!”

Giles mentions that the last two years have ultimately been the most challenging time of his life, alongside millions of others worldwide. During the height of the pandemic, he moved principalships, opened a new school and building, navigated an economic downturn in the private education sector, lost personal touch with his family and friends, and sadly lost a parent to covid.

“How do you overcome such uncertainty and insecurity? The answer is simple – invest in those you love, build a team around you that you trust, and stay upbeat. Remember, you can’t control the uncontrollable,” iterates Giles.

Redefining Technology Leadership

Arcadia was awarded Apple Distinguished School status in 2018 and then again in 2021 for reaccreditation, one of only 700 schools worldwide. This meant that when the pandemic struck, the institution was well set up for remote learning and the development of live learning experiences. Having a strong team of technologists at the heart of the organization and a cadre of 100% trained Apple Educators has meant that adapting to the shift into digitizing learning has not been very challenging.

The 1-to-1 iPad program for students in years 3-9 has provided the infrastructure to support greater collaboration, and real-time learning experiences through the use of software such as ‘Seesaw’ and ‘Nearpod’ and Arcadia’s student digital leaders have been designing ways to bring more meaningful digitized activities into the classes.

Enabling Students for Modern Age Career Challenge

One of the areas in which the institute is pioneering through enrichment learning with a focus on developing lifelong learning skills, and it starts right the way down in our EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) classes, where child-initiated learning and free flow help students take control of their learning, whilst teachers plan ‘in-the-moment’ to further enhance collaboration and creativity.

Arcadia also has a bespoke Junior MBA program that runs from Year 1 to Year 6. Created by the CEO of Arcadia, Navin Valrani, who holds an MBA from London Business School, the modules explore areas such as marketing, financial literacy, and competitor analysis and culminate in ‘Dragon’s Den’ style pitches to a team of senior leaders.

This entrepreneurial strand is continued into secondary school with a series of shared modules inspired by the Sands Centre for Entrepreneurial Leadership(CEL) from Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in the US.

The Units of learning include HTML Coding, Money Matters, Digital Publishing, and Personal Brand Design. “We expect all students to be digitally literate when they leave Arcadia and balance this with activities that challenge their thinking skills and problem-solving to try and match where we believe they could enter the workforce over the next 15 years,” explains Giles Pruett.

A Guiding Light

Suggestings and staying humble on his grounds, he advises the budding leaders of tomorrow, “Don’t be afraid to be different. Embrace the challenge, but also recognize yourself as part of the sum of many parts. We are moving into the Anthropocene, the age where human activity is having the greatest impact on climate and the environment. To prevent an impending disaster of global significance, humans must work together, and we have the power to do this, but it starts with the individual making a difference collectively. There is a soapbox ready for you to take a stand and work together, so don’t let individual greed lure you away from this important common goal.”

Envisioning the Future

Giles comments on the institution’s future roadmap, “Arcadia is only coming into its seventh year of operations, and so we are still embedding many important new initiatives as both schools continue to mature into their footprints and ecosystems. We are opening our first-year group for public examinations in 2022 with the launch of GCSEs and expect to open our sixth form to students who wish to study ‘A’ Levels and additional pathways in 2024. This is a really exciting time to be at the school and being voted as the ‘best new school in the UAE’ of the last six years by Which School Advisor and Schools Compared, we are proud of what has been achieved in a short space of time.”

“Our key aim is to continue to stay true to our values and vision as we navigate through the examinations phase and continue to provide high-quality exposure to lifelong learning experiences. We will be opening a third school also in 2023, called Arcadia Global School, and fully expect this to be recognized under the same umbrella of excellence in years to come,” concludes Giles.

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