PD Provider Highlight – Omaira Alam

Headshot of Omaira Alam
Headshot of Omaira Alam

Ms. Omaira Alam, PD Provider

PD Provider Highlight:  Omaira Alam

ISLA is honored to provide high quality professional development to Islamic schools across the country.  In this PD Provider Highlight, we would like to share more information about Sr. Omaira Alam, one of our newest PD providers.  Sr. Omaira has over 20 years of experience in various educational settings as principal, board member, and teacher trainer, along with experience with the US Dept. of State and MUHSEN.  She received a Bachelor’s in Global Education and Neuroscience from the University of Toronto, and a Master’s in Special Education from The George Washington University.  In 2023, Ms. Omaira will be available to provide workshops on topics related to Developing Special Ed Techniques for Muslim Schools; Authentic Behavior Management for Islamic Full-time and Weekend Schools; Vision Building for Schools and Classrooms; Creativity in the Classroom; The End of Homework; and Differentiated Instruction.  We took some time to learn more about Sr. Omaira recently, and would like to share out some highlights on her passion and interests:

What PD sessions have you recently led?

The most recent PDs that I have led are in Special Education within an Islamic school context and Curriculum Mapping bringing Islamic history to align with national standards. I am also planning a short training on Classroom Management for weekend school teachers.  

What led you to become an educator?

I, actually, never wanted to become a teacher. I never played school over summer holidays pretending to be the teacher with my cousins. That was my sister’s dream and mashaAllah she’s been a successful educator for over 25 years. But after I graduated university, I taught in an Islamic school. I, actually, told the students – 9th grade girls – on the first day, in my sage wisdom of my 20-something years, “At the end of the year, if I love teaching it’s your fault, and if I hate teaching, it’s your fault.” The year progressed and I found myself enjoying teaching, so much so that I enrolled in a teacher education program for the following year. However, my students didn’t forget what I said to them and came to me on the last day of school: 

“So, Sr O, do you love it or hate it?” 

“What are you talking about?”  They responded, “Teaching; do you love it or hate it?” 

“Oh, I love it!” Without hesitation, they responded in their cheeky way, “You know, it’s our fault.” 

Allah knows best and He is the Best of Planners who inspires hearts. 

What topic are you passionate about?

I believe more than anything, more than what we are teaching or why we are teaching it, is how we are teaching students. For me increasing student engagement means we decrease punitive practices towards student misbehavior. Classroom management and teaching guided by dignified conduct is something very close to my heart. Growing up I would be in detention a lot. I’d get in trouble for a myriad of things – nothing dangerous or too bad. I think one of the worst was when I snuck in at recess and put water on the chair of a boy in my class who wouldn’t stop bothering me – I should’ve drawn the line at the music teacher though. 

How we guide and correct students at any age must be done with dignity. And teachers cannot do it alone. We need a multi-tiered support system to do this. We need research-based practices. We need Prophetic Pedagogy. I’ve worked with schools on exemplifying dignified conduct, much like our Prophet, who taught us the Dignified Way. Many methods humiliate and degrade students, and then we wonder why students check out of learning and engaging. Dignifying students as we guide them increases student engagement. It’s not easy because it’s a long term, mutually transformative experience. It considers that the Prophet disciplined with dignity and dignified those whom he disciplined. This is something I have been researching for almost twenty years and try to pass on to other educators and students. 

Share a success story.

This section is a little difficult for me. The reason is when I think of a success story, I see so many little successes that made my journey in education so blessed.

While students are our focus, teachers are the vehicle through which learning happens. We need to ensure that teachers are taken care of, formally and informally. As principal of a K-8 school, it was very important for me that teachers be granted mental health days. That’s a success story. 

Helping parents recognize that their child, however beautiful and wonderful and bright, may not want to be a doctor, but instead would love to feed people and become a chef and entrepreneur. That’s a success story. 

Seeing the eyes of a child light up when they finally understand the concept, that’s a success story.

Knowing that you can tackle anti-black racism head-on and create a safe space for all your students, that’s a success story. 

Training teachers on how to address student misbehavior through dignified conduct, and have them implement it in their classrooms and schools, that’s a success story. 

Tell us one thing that a school leader should do today.

Recognize the wealth of knowledge and experience that comes from classroom teachers. Encourage collaboration among teachers and departments. Be transparent with parents on your vision of the school. Finally, respect teachers under your leadership. 

Share one strategy that a teacher should implement in the classroom for the 2nd semester?

Years ago, my master’s advisor always engrained in us during our practice teaching, “Assume nothing.” Whatever another teacher says about a student, no matter how thick that student’s file is, when they come in your classroom consider it a fresh slate. Assume the best about them and work from there. Let them start fresh 2nd semester if possible. 

What is a tip for parents?

While grades are important to student success, also recognize that good character, empathy and compassion are goals to strive for as well. Be patient with your child. It’s hard being a parent right now, but it’s so much harder being a student. 

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