A Journey to Oman
GSEP Professor Works with Educational System in Middle East Country
Dr. Diana Hiatt-Michael has been a member of the Graduate School of Education and Psychology faculty for more than 30 years, beginning her Pepperdine teaching on the original Vermont Avenue campus. She has taught in master’s and doctoral degree programs and is the editor of the Family School Community Partnership Issues monograph series, published by Information Age Publishing.
In November 2006, through a U.S.-Middle East Educational Partnership Grant, she traveled to Oman to discuss family-school-community partnerships.
What was the purpose of your trip to Oman?
The Sultanate of Oman is focusing on education as a means to rapidly change the country from a nomadic-agrarian society to an active participant in contemporary world economics. The sultanate recognizes the importance of parent involvement in the educational achievement of students. Their goal is to establish an active parent council at every school.
How did you become involved?
Last spring, the Oman Ministry of Education was searching for an appropriate leader of a workshop series on parent councils for educational representatives across Oman. They desired a person who had a grasp of parent involvement on an international scale and could share best practices with them.
In what ways were you uniquely qualified for the task?
As series editor of Family School Community Partnership Issues monographs, I had recently completed a cutting-edge volume entitled Promising Practices for Family Involvement Across the Continents. The work was an outgrowth of a 16-year involvement with the International Network of Educational Scholars, whose primary interest is family involvement in schooling. The deputy assistant in the Oman Ministry of Education located my book, secured additional information about me on the GSEP Web site, and read articles written by me. The deputy assistant e-mailed me, asking if I would be interested.
My son had served in the Persian Gulf War and had been to Oman as well as other Middle East countries. Thus, I had knowledge about the country as well as the family-school-community issues they were investigating. Of course, I had much more to learn before I accepted the proposal.
What caused you to accept?
The enticement was that I had the support of the Ministry of Education, top representatives from the six regions of the country, a bevy of fine principals, and passionate parents. How could I possibly refuse an opportunity to make a difference across a whole country?
How was the trip financed?
The Ministry of Education’s interest was shared with the U.S. Embassy in Oman. A U.S.-Middle East Educational Partnership Grant was secured and supported by their work.
What were your responsibilities and activities during the trip?
My task was to prepare the workshops for an unknown group. I drew upon my knowledge of teaching management and team building as the start of the workshops. Six groups were attending and they had to become a team, acquiring skills of collaborative decision making. If not, the parents would remain voiceless to the leadership of a dominant principal. This was the most challenging task.
How did you prepare beforehand?
Fortunately, I had requested two days before the workshop to visit schools and meet with representatives who might be attending. During that time, I was able to connect with two important figures and establish trust. I had sent my article “Schools as Learning Communities,” published in the School Community Journal, to be translated in Arabic. This article provided school leaders with the basic content for the workshop, and we discussed this content during these visits. Thus, throughout the workshops, these kind gentlemen supported my efforts and we garnered the trust and faith of all the teams.
What were the results of the trip, and how did the experience affect you?
The final day, each team wrote their school site plan and shared it with the other representatives. I had goosebumps as I listened to the commitments, excitement, and passion of each team. The ministry created a final ceremony that left me speechless and with tears in my eyes.
Family involvement in public and private schooling captured my interest during my student teaching days. This interest blossomed into a long-lasting commitment to the importance of connecting families and teachers in every school community. My work with representatives from across Oman thus far has been the highlight of this passion.