Chemistry is about reactions. It’s the almost magical way that adding just the right element catalyzes an irreversible change.

For education reform in Jordan, Mary Tadros is that element. When her inclusive leadership and perseverance are added to a mélange of intentions and inertia, she manages to subtly but strongly create something new—a willingness among government officials to work together on policies that put Jordanian teachers and students at the center.

Mary did not set out to be the passionate and successful advocate she is today. The confident woman who stands up for the right of children to quality education started out as a shy, academic girl who later became a chemistry teacher in a school set up in a small apartment.

The school’s humble beginnings belied its founders’ big ambition: to create an international school in Jordan where boys and girls could learn together and explore topics that included intercultural and international awareness.

Mary started teaching science to the first batch of primary school students to pass through the fledgling operation’s doors in 1981, and her job advancement kept pace with the fast-growing Amman Baccalaureate School. Mary became the science coordinator, then head of science and later the deputy head of the secondary school.  The last job she held at the school was as head of the middle school.

Her 25-year teaching career taught Mary what a difference it makes when a school invests in its teachers.

“That school experience was a fantastic exposure for me because the school invested a lot in professional development and I saw how effective professional development could make you a better teacher,” she says.

When Mary transitioned into her current role as the senior academic adviser in the office of Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah, she brought along her belief in the benefits of professional development.

The queen herself, Mary says, has been a role model in her support for Jordan’s educators.

“I am inspired by my queen because she is smart and understands that education is the only way to develop in Jordan,” she says. “She pushes for education reform, wants change and cares about the teacher. She knows that the teacher is at the heart of the reform.”

Working on this public school reform agenda opened Mary’s eyes to a very different educational reality from the one in which she’d spent a quarter of a century.

“That was a paradigm shift for me—being in a very sheltered international school, then facing the world of government and working with public schools,” Mary says. “I started becoming more interested in public schools and what public schools do.”

Bringing teachers and officials together for education reform is one of Mary Tadros’ passions and greatest achievements. With the Education Reform Support Program, she helped put in place a teacher professional development policy that was endorsed by the government in 2012. Photo by Dalia Naber
Bringing teachers and officials together for education reform is one of Mary Tadros’ passions and greatest achievements. With the Education Reform Support Program, she helped put in place a teacher professional development policy that was endorsed by the government in 2012. Photo by Dalia Naber.

Helping the less fortunate

Having worked with privileged students in the elite Amman Baccalaureate School, Mary realized there was a monstrous need to help less fortunate students and teachers in schools where resources were lacking and professional development was piecemeal.

The limitations were many—the small classrooms with huge numbers of students now even more strained with refugee children from Syria, the limited technology, the traditional curriculum and old-fashioned teaching methods.

Here was where she could spark a change.

“When you impact one teacher, you’re impacting thousands of children. And you can make a change in their lives,” Mary says. “So that’s what excited me about reform.”

Mary’s drive aligned with that of Jordan’s education leaders, who believed just as strongly that the kingdom’s youth should receive an inspiring education and worthwhile opportunities. They partnered with Creative Associates International on the USAID-sponsored Education Reform Support Program and made Mary a senior education adviser.

In advocating for better professional development and support for teachers, Mary won over the bureaucrats with her level of experience.

“I never came in as an expert in private education [who was] bringing change to public education,” she explains. “What I was able to tell them is that I’ve seen what teachers are capable of doing and teachers are interested in change and when you go to the field, you see this interest.”

She told them about teachers she had met in Finland, Singapore and other countries she had visited as part of her work at an International Baccalaureate organization as an educator and school evaluator. She talked about teachers who made a huge impact on their students with limited resources. She listed what had worked and what hadn’t.

When it came to the ministry, Mary says she showed her colleagues that she cared about supporting them. “You’re adding to their knowledge and you’re adding to their thinking and you want them to have these ‘Aha!’ moments. You know, ‘Wow! That would work for us,’ ” she says.

Photos by Dalia Naber
Photos by Dalia Naber

Working toward reform

Mary’s passionate approach put teachers and students and their learning at the center of discussions. She called upon her fellow educators to step up to the challenge and make change happen for the sake of struggling students in public schools.

“It was always collaborative, but there were times where you have to say ‘enough is enough,’ and ‘this is not working,’ and ‘we need to find another way of doing it,’ ” Mary says. “You’ve got to make noise…you need to be proactive.”

Mary and her colleagues with the Jordan Education Reform Support Program succeeded in mobilizing the ministry to accept changes that would benefit teachers and students. The program prepared 475 ministry trainers and reached almost 12,000 educators, principals and school supervisors with professional development training designed to improve pedagogy and learning in schools.

They played a leading role in the development and application of a teacher professional development policy that Mary calls a “fantastic document,” and which, after a two-year push, was finally endorsed in April 2012 by the government. Now the ministry is looking to develop leadership programs based on the published Leadership Standards created through the program and endorsed by the ministry.

Mary’s dream is for Jordan’s reform to touch every aspect of education. “We cannot just reform teacher training. We need to reform the curriculum; we need to reform the teacher; we need to reform the leadership in the schools.”

By Jennifer Brookland