With over twenty years of British educational experience, Robert Relton recently moved to the UAE to take appointment as headmaster of the newly opened Repton School on Reem Island. We had a chat about the challenges and rewards of being such an integral part of the new campus, about life as a new expat to Abu Dhabi, and about motorcycles and samurai.
So, can you give me a quick snapshot of Repton as a school for those unfamiliar with the organization?
We strive for excellence, but not at the sake of individuality. Children are recognized for who they are, and we help them understand what they stand for, what they will be remembered for. This is especially important with an international community – acknowledging that each child has a different starting point.
What has been the most difficult part of the launch?
With a project of this size starting from the ground up, there have been a lot of challenges; from construction, passing inspections and the accompanying bureaucracy, to meeting with parents and asking them to trust in our vision and have faith before there was even a building on site.
And the most rewarding part?
The children – that first day of school, the delight in being part of something brand new. And keeping that spirit in their voyage of discovery with learning. A good school works on the strength of its staff and its ethos; it’s not about repeating lessons. Teachers are constantly looking for creative ways to tailor this to new children and the unique set of experiences each new class brings, to always keep it exciting.
What would you say to a group of mothers new to Abu Dhabi?
This is such a uniquely diverse community, so you have to keep an open mind. Listen to both the expat population and tap into the local people to understand how they came to be before you make decisions or judgments.
Do you have any favorite books to recommend?
As a child, my favorite book was Roald Dahl’s, “Danny, the Champion of the World”, with its very powerful father-son connection. Today, one genre that I particularly enjoy is Japanese and Korean lit, especially the story of Mushashi, (the most renowned Samurai swordsman that ever lived).
I’ve read that in your lifetime, you’ll only get to read about thirty- to forty-thousand books in your life, so if you pick on up and cannot get into it, don’t waste your reading time and move on to the next.
If we invested AED 1 million into your organization, how would you spend it?
[Laughs] I’d speak to the local planning authority and discuss an “incentive” to increase our playground space. Play is so important for children and I’d love to maximize our facility to the fullest extent.
Now for something personal, tell me something surprising about yourself?
Most would be surprised to learn that I’m a very keen motorcyclist. It doesn’t usually fit in with the “headmaster” image, but for 10 years in the UK, I’d arrive at school on a motorbike. I even went so far as to have built my own sports bike.
What can’t you live without?
Easy – laughter. It’s my biggest energy source, to be able to smile every day.
Is there anything you would love to learn?
The ability to play a musical instrument. As a child, I had lessons in both the recorder and violin, and failed; it’s a big regret that I didn’t follow through. I am especially interested in the jazz trumpet, to be able to pick it up and just improvise.
All images were provided by and copyrighted to Repton School Abu Dhabi
Note: This interview was originally published in the January 2014 issue of the Moms Guide Newsletter
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