Superintendent of the American Community School (ACS) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Robin Heslip, Ph.D., discusses how she got her start in education overseas, the importance of supporting other women leaders and how she began collecting carpets.
Q. Why did you choose a career in education?
A. It was always meant to be. When I was in kindergarten my parents bought me an old desk with an ink well, a magnetic map and alphabet letters. Every day when I came home from school, I would reteach my mother and grandmother what I learned. I had a connection with teaching from the very first day of school.
Q. You began your career teaching social studies in Sparta, Wisconsin. How did you become Superintendent at ACS in Abu Dhabi?
A. It was always in my blood to be interested in the world. When I was teaching in high school in the early 1980s, one of the librarians would always go on these fantastic educational trips around the world. I decided I wanted to see what overseas teaching was all about. I attended a recruiting fair for international schools at the University of Northern Iowa, but I was not offered any jobs because I didn’t have any overseas experiences. So, I participated in a visiting teacher program in Edinburgh, Scotland for a month and that seemed to do the trick. They knew I could “make it” overseas. Since then, I’ve worked in schools in Croatia, Argentina, Malaysia, Morocco, and Zaire.
Q. Why is it important to have more women leaders in education?
A. I’ve been in education for 40 years now, and when I first became an administrator it was not unusual to attend a conference and see most of the room filled with men with gray hair and suits. I quickly became connected with the few women in the room because we had a common bond. Interestingly, most of my mentors who helped me get into leadership roles have been men, but after attending a women’s leadership symposium, I made it a mission of mine to be engaged in women’s leadership and support women in their career journeys. My mother always supported me in being a strong, independent woman leader, and it’s critically important that women’s voices are part of the ongoing international conversation about how to improve education for students everywhere.
Q. What do you see as the biggest value in Middle States accreditation, especially for international schools?
A. Middle States brings a set of standards to international schools that are definitely needed. The accreditation process emphasizes the importance of self-analysis and reflection, which is critical to the process of growing and improving. For team members, the benefit of looking at and listening to the experiences of others helps you make the experience better in your own school.
Q. What is the most interesting place you’ve been to on a school visit and why?
A. If I was talking to you two months from now, I would say Iceland, but today I would have to say my first visit to Bahrain was the most interesting. It was so very, very different than anything I had experienced. When I got on the plane, there were four falcons tethered to the four bulkhead seats in the economy section of the plane!
Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I enjoy spending time with my friends and walking my dogs. I have two toy poodles, Ricky and Lucy, both from Argentina.
Q. What is one thing that people may be surprised to learn about you?
A. People may be surprised to learn that I collect carpets. When I was on holiday one year in Morocco, I took a trip out to the desert and met a man who invited my friend and me into his house for tea. He had carpets piled up everywhere and rolled them out for us to see. That moment stuck with me, and today I probably have about 50 different carpets. One day, when I retire to my condo in Florida, I will have a room filled with carpets, and when I really want to remember that moment in Morocco and my other adventures throughout the world, I will roll a carpet out and think about the wonderful opportunities I have had in my 30 years overseas.