This article is part of an editorial series on Future School Leaders
Niamh Reynolds is the Early Years Performance Arts Teacher and KS1 Art Teacher at Arcadia School, Dubai. Niamh says her approach enables confidence-building and independence for her young students and she sees the many transferable skills that come from arts performance.
Niamh, tell us about your career to date…
After graduating from Dublin City University with a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed), my first professional teaching role was in an inner city school in Dublin called St. Ultan’s. The school had an unusual model of integrated care and education, designed to support both the child and their family, primarily catering to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. I was an early years teacher there, and the school really recognised the benefits of quality early years provision and a smooth transition into primary school.
After three years, having learned a huge amount, I decided I wanted to experience living and working overseas. If I’m honest, my initial plan was to move to Australia, but that plan came to a stand-still when Covid-19 struck. I continued working at St Ultan’s for another year, during the pandemic, and did a bit more research on which countries I should consider, to develop professionally and have a positive experience. I had friends who had moved to the UAE, and it became the obvious choice.
My position at Arcadia is my first in the UAE and my role here is very different to what I did at home. I was a mainstream early years teacher, whereas at Arcadia, I have a dual specialist role, as Early Years and KS1 performing arts teacher and KS1 art teacher. This has been a big change for me, but one that has allowed me to bring together my passions for dance, performance, creativity and early years of education.
I have a big background in dance and performance; This is something that I’ve always felt a huge passion for. I’ve been doing ballet since I was 4-years-old, the age of some of my students now. I taught ballet for my dance school as a teenager and as an early years teacher in Ireland, I would always incorporate dance and performance into my practice, which I found to be really beneficial for the children.
How has this influenced your approach in your current role?
I take a very child-led approach, with the intention of giving the children a sense of independence in their own learning. We use work stations, with the materials and equipment for the different areas of performing arts made available to the children around the room, and the children explore concepts through dance, through music and through drama. We follow the children’s curiosities and where they want to go; It’s just so free flowing and some of them are already showing a preference for dance, some will prefer to go to the rhythm station, it’s lovely to see these interests developing. I view myself as a facilitator rather than dictating instructions to the children; I give them the resources and they come to me with the results.
There are so many transferable skills that the children develop by doing performance arts, but the impact on their confidence is the biggest thing for me. The work stations approach supports children to feel comfortable and develop confidence, as they start each class participating in small groups and work up to performing to the class in steps. The other day, a little boy in FS1 who had joined us last term, not speaking any English, refusing to take part in my classes, was at the far end of the classroom, confidently pretending to be the teacher, giving the instructions for the lessons to the other children.
Who or what inspired you to become a teacher?
As a child, I had a teacher called Miss O’Reilly, and there was something so lovely about her. She was almost like Miss Honey, from Matilda, so kind and so lovely. And she just made the classroom feel like home to me. So that was where I think my love for school came from, first of all. And then when I was in my teenage years, my dance teacher came to me and asked if I would teach younger classes. She obviously saw something in me. I said yes, and that experience just seeing children enjoy themselves and expressing themselves was so rewarding.
Why teach in the UAE?
I came here for an experience and to progress. What I’ve found is that there is so much opportunity for learning and career development as a teacher in the UAE, particularly at Arcadia. As a young educator, I didn’t see this path for myself back home, where people stay in the same job role year upon year. Being here has ignited something in me that I didn’t know I had; I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone and given the most incredible opportunities.