I have two work trips to Dubai coming up. There’s a huge variety in what I’m going to talk about over both trips and every type of audience: young people, families, parents, teachers and educationalists from around the world. People (including my parents, who are quite mystified by my career!) often ask what I do when I do these things, so:
The first is the GESS education conference. I love speaking at international education conferences, because of the high level delegates from education systems from around the world and the opportunities for learning from each other. I’ll be doing a Keynote – The Learning Brains in Your Classroom – and three other sessions, on 1. Inside the teenage brain 2. Why should schools care about stress and 3. What schools need to know about screens, phones and social media.
Darcy Bussell is doing one of the other keynotes. As long as she doesn’t try to make me dance, we’ll be fine.
The second is the Emirates Literature Festival the following week. (I’m going back to the UK for the weekend in the middle.) I’ve never been to this festival but I’ve heard great things about it and the dedication of the people organising it. I’m doing three sessions:
- A school event at the Horizon International School. I’ve visited a lot of international schools around the world and they can be pretty intense places. The students are always from many different countries and usually set themselves very high standards – sometimes too high for their own good, so one of the things I do is reinforce my mantra that “relaxation is not a luxury but an essential part of physical and mental wellbeing.” I hope they’re ready with lots of questions.
- A public event for adults AND teenagers/young people, on the truth about life online. It’s in the children’s programme but my message about healthy use of our phones is for adults and young people equally. Actually, I lied: I think adults need it more. Please come! I’ll be at the festival from Tuesday March 5th till the end. (I’ve just done a radio interview about it for Dubai Eye).
- I’ll tell you about the third one in a minute…
Doing these long trips so close together is very hard work and I’ve not really had a break since last summer, so I’d be exhausted by the end if it weren’t for a few important factors: I’m travelling in comfort and being looked after well on both trips. The conference is hard work but it’s my job and I’m being paid, while the festival includes plenty of relaxation. During (and leading up to) the trips, I will also do my best to manage my own “table of wellbeing”: food and water, exercise, sleep and relaxation.
And, to round it all off, an amazingly lucky thing is happening: the Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa have kindly offered me a night and day at their nature reservation. I can’t wait to learn about the desert properly and experience such a different environment. Especially the falcon handling!
Apart from that splash of indulgence, I will work hard and there’s masses of preparation and lots of scope for stress, but this is what I love doing: sharing the messages I’m passionate about with people who want to listen.
Young people wherever in the world are equally deserving of good care, helping them grow up with the best possible physical and mental health. My principles involve doing the small things I can to make people’s lives better. I can affect individual young people’s minds – and help their parents and teachers – and that’s where I’ll fight my battles and do my work. I will do what I can where I can and I’m delighted to be going back to Dubai twice this year. So, thank you both to the GESS conference and the Emirates Literature Festival for inviting me. And to the Al Maha resort for the chance to experience a night in the desert.
3. The third session: this is something you need to know about, and it explains again why I’m delighted to be going. This is the presentation of the School Librarian of the Year Award, sponsored and organised by the Emirates Literature Foundation. You know what I think about school librarians – I can’t get enough of them, frankly. So I’m beyond delighted that there’s this award in Dubai (like the one in the UK) and very excited to be part of it. I’ll share a panel with the fabulous Maitha Al Khayat
“…a member of a new breed of superheroes. The mother of five is one of the UAE’s most prolific Emirati children’s illustrators and writers. She is a Board Member at the UAE Board of Books for Young People – IBBY, and an ambassador of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. In less than 10 years, Al Khayat has published more than 160 books; some translated into English and Turkish, and used in curriculums at schools around the country. Her popular book My Own Special Way received an award for best book in the Children’s Forum, Riyadh (2011) and was nominated for best translated book at the Marsh Awards, UK (2013). Maitha’s picture book Turn off the Lights was also awarded best picture book at the Publishers’ Forum, Sharjah (2016).
Al Khayat writes for children’s TV shows, including the newly relaunched Arabic version of Sesame Street and the Emirati cartoon series Hamdoon. Recently she has published her first Young Adult novel Tofan.”
I can’t wait to meet her!
You can see why I’m pleased to be going. The more we can visit each other’s countries and share ideas face-to-face the better our world can become.
Although, I will be warning them that reading is terribly dangerous: