Asma Gilani, principal, Our Own English High School, Sharjah. Image Credit: Supplied

I stand at the helm of a school that grows with its 8000 (or more) students. Not all days are alike. Some are packed with energy and enthusiasm, while others are a marathon run to meet deadlines and close projects.

As the head of a girls’ school and a mother of a wonderful, university going boy, I often find myself dwelling on a teasing question – who am I, from the inside? Of course, the world knows me by my name, but what value have I added to the existence of myself. Who am I in the core?

I still see myself as a student, someone who is learning and growing from each experience of life. It is this core value that I aim to instill in my girls at school, because for us (as a school) excellence has always meant more than just high levels of academic performance. Anyone can memorize and reproduce the data for an exam, but it takes more than the average learner to soak in what life gives us and grow from there.

It requires commitment, courage and collective effort on the part of the adult world to look at things fresh, and free of biases and prejudices. When we teach our children these values, they are ensured a world of their own. We at Our Own English High School, Sharjah Girls’ Branch, just like all GEMS Schools, believe in experimenting with new ideas, developing new skills, exploring different perspectives and growing in areas of one’s natural talents.

Our students have the opportunity to take responsibility of different programmes in the school. They have a voice in school affairs. They lead projects or initiatives that emphasize and demonstrate GEMS core values. We have with us self-starters and forward thinkers, who are driven by the spirit to serve. They see beyond the differences of cast, creed, economic stature and nationality. They connect.

Recently, my girls at OOEHS, Sharjah Girls Branch, took the initiative to be a part of The Varkey GEMS Foundation, which is a non-profit organization established to impact the lives of underprivileged children, everywhere. We started with creating awareness amongst students and the staff through mails and donation of school uniforms. Nagabhatla Subhanka , Tayyaba Alam and Janet Jacob made us proud by raising Dhs 565 through the sale of handmade jewelry, homemade cakes and a painting depicting a local scene . With the proceeds, the girls bought books for ‘not – so- lucky students’.

We organise a SEWA week each year to celebrate the values of selflessness, awareness of dignity of labour, compassion and team work. Our girls plan summer voluntary programmes to focus on other ways of rendering service. We are also connected with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation’s Face to Faith Schools programme. Face to Faith enables students across the world to learn from each other. It’s initiatives like these that teach us to be better human beings with a bigger heart.

The most impactful lessons, quite often are not the ones we learn in a classroom. They are the learning and understanding that comes when we open the doors to our heart and mind. This is when we nourish our core values and grow from who we are on the inside.

(Asma Gilani is Principal, Our Own English High School, Sharjah, and one of the winners of the 2012-13 Khalifa Award for Excellence in Education).