Janecke Aarnaes, Dubai's Ultimate Communicator?

Janecke Aarnaes brings to Dubai more than 22 years of teaching experience. Prior to joining Dwight School in Dubai she held the position as Head of School at Oslo International School (OIS) in Norway.
Janecke Aarnaes, Dubai's Ultimate Communicator?
By Veathika
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One of America’s most renowned International Baccalaureate (IB) schools, Dwight was founded in 1872 and was the first school to offer the complete IB curriculum in the United States.

This is not the only time the school has taken IB leadership however. Dwight operates several sister schools worldwide and its schools in New York and London were two of only six selected from over 3,700 to be IB “Open World” schools, that is to be accredited to offer online IB course provision to students around the globe.

For such an impressive school opening, Dwight clearly needed a Principal with a CV to do the brand justice. With more than 22 years of teaching experience it found that in Janecke Aarnaes who is already on the ground in Dubai, planning the school's opening.

Having started as a foreign language teacher, Janecke has worked within the private educational sector, within both national and international schools in Norway and Belgium. She is also a board member of the ECIS, the Educational Collaborative for International Schools.

Janecke speaks eight languages including English, French, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Spanish, Italian and German.

WhichSchoolAdvisor.com met with Dwight's new principal to find out more.


You are a multi-linguist, have you always loved languages and will that also translate in the languages offered at Dwight?

Knowing and speaking eight languages comes from a genuine interest. When I was a student, my best subjects were language classes. I thrived as a student in those classes. Apart from that I have always wanted to work internationally, so ever since I was young  languages was a way through which I thought I could travel the world. That’s why I acquired language skills that I could use privately and professionally.

When our students start in September, I will start Arabic classes with them. Learning Arabic is my new learning goal. My language skills are limited to European languages so it’s obviously a massive challenge. Hopefully I’ll inspire our other non-Arabic speaking teachers to learn with me!

One of Dwight's hallmarks is that it is multilingual. The student population will be extremely diverse, culturally and linguistically. We draw on our students as resources. This comes from Dwight, but also as an IB school where languages play an instrumental part in the general learning environment. We will offer multiple languages as our core and in addition there will be various languages to choose as part of after school activities programme. We are aiming for our children to become at least trilingual if they stay with us for a number of years.

English will be the language of instruction at Dwight, with Arabic for native and non-native students. Pre-K to KG2 children will be exposed to both Mandarin and French. This will allow the students to have a more informed say when they go to Grade 1 as to which language they would like to pursue in primary. They will need to choose on or the other.

When they go from primary into secondary, they can make a new language choice and add a fourth language – currently Spanish or German. As we grow in student numbers we will expand the range of languages we offer.

Apart from languages what are the other hallmarks of Dwight?

There are three main pillars of Dwight that really create the ethos of the school – the personalized learning, the global vision and the community.

Our global vision comes as both an IB school and just by being Dwight.

We are global not only in outlook, but increasingly in structure... We started in New York. The London campus was set up in 1972. In 2010 we opened a school in Seoul. Shanghai opened in 2013 and now in 2018 we are coming to Dubai. We even have a campus in the clouds with Dwight Global Online. This is a secondary school that starts from Grade 6 and allows students anywhere in the world to join the Dwight School.

The final hallmark is our focus on developing the skills that students need to become global citizens. When the students go out in the world after school, they need to be prepared for what the 21st century world is going to request from them.

We have an exceptionally strong academic programme. IB is a very very strong framework for learning but what Dwight has added on top is a well rounded, holistic approach to learning, where students not only develop academic skills but also '21st century skills', or 'soft skills'.

Dwight students at three-years-old, are trained to become critical thinkers. It becomes so natural for them that when they graduate from school and go to university, they have a way of thinking and approaching issues that other students have yet to develop.

This is the essential hallmark of Dwight, an holistic development of our students so they are academically savvy but equally have exceptional life skills. They are able to engage in critical thinking, be analytical and collaborative, and communicate... Which of course brings it all back to the beginning, to languages. In tomorrow's world we cannot expect that to always be done in English.

Dwight School
Dwight School Dubai

What do you really do that is different when it comes to personalisation of learning?

I think a lot of schools will say that they personalise learning for individual students, and all schools should do that. We have, though, taken it to a higher level and that can be seen through the programmes we offer our students.

We have something called the Spark Tank, which allows a student to take an idea they have, and develop it all the way to being a physical, practical end product.  This does not have to connect with anything that they are doing in a classroom setting.

Spark allows every single student who has an idea to try to make something out of it, to get guidance and mentoring from experts, to go through a design thinking cycle where they also learn those skills. They go through a research stage and get development training. Sometimes they will have to scrap their original idea and go back to the drawing board. Students present their ideas at milestone stages to a panel of judges who will evaluate their product or idea and help guide students on how to make it a real product that could go all the way to the market.

This requires exceptional stamina from a student. They are continually being pushed back and their ideas challenged. The youngest student in Dwight history for Spark Tank has been a Grade 3 student, who went through the programme last year in New York.

This is a student who loves writing and reading, she came to a point where she had read a lot of children’s books, she didn’t find any literature that she felt represented her world view, so she was inspired by her teacher to come up with a character that could represent her ideal book character.

She decided that she wanted to write a book herself. She wrote the story as part of her literacy work in school but her teacher saw a girl with talent and great imagination. With her teacher she took the idea to the Spark Tank, which then brought together a panel from the publishing industry that guided her to a publisher.

She has now finished four novels. She’s still a grade 3 student.

Another example was a 14-year-old boy who in his humanities class was discussing war. He became extremely moved and frustrated sitting in a school where you feel ultra privileged, and he thought there must be something that he could do to impact the lives of others not so privileged. The boy was into technology, robotics and coding, all skills he could use to create a prosthetic device that would allow injured children to gain better mobility. 

The boy understood that if his idea was to gain any traction if would have to be low cost. He started off with 3-D printing, and a very simple prototype that he took to Spark  and initially was told how complicated his idea was.

He worked on it for two years and eventually managed to produce an advanced technological device that at $300 is actually going to be produced. Along the way the boy had to learn completely new skills to programme for 3-D printing. He had moreover to learn tenacity, to keep going against the odds. He is now however a 16-year old boy with a prosthetic device that is going into production.

Quest is another personalisation ethos of Dwight, it’s a learning accelerator programme available to all our students.

It meets the students at his or her individual needs level and works across subjects. We can see a specific need for it here with language. Not all of our students will be native English speakers. They will come into Quest through a language branch.

We may also have students struggling in some academic subjects, typically, with Maths. Transitioning from one school to another often adds additional learning challenges.

Quest is not limited to academic subjects, however. It could be used in acquiring self management skills, concentration skills, for mechanisms and finding structures that will make their learning better in school...

Quest can also be used as advancement accelerator, so if a student is at an exceptional achievement level, it can help take him or her further.

IB has come under a lot of criticism for being for the more academically more able. Can Dwight be IB and yet still really be for everyone?

I believe IB is a game changer in the future of education. It’s a misconception that IB is for more academically able students; I would say there’s no programme available in education that is a better fit for all students.

It is very much up to the individual school to build to the needs of the individual child or student to ensure that the growth within the school is a personalised growth curve. Of course there will be schools who’ll say that as they only take or want high achievers, but there’s nothing in the IB philosophy that would say that this is what IB is.

A school that is true to the philosophy should work hard to bring less able students up to 24-25 points in the Diploma, if that is their goal. This may be exceptional achievement for a less able student. Getting them there can exceptional achievement for the school itself too. 

Is there a leadership philosophy that you follow?

Fundamentally, my own cultural background plays a significant part in my approach to leadership. I come from a very democratic society where flat structure is the norm and I bring that to my leadership style. I am a democratic leader who believes in a collaborative working environment that really embraces everyone, taking in other peoples’ views and then making an informed decision.

I believe very strongly in creating an environment that empowers an individual, that if we empower our colleagues, allow and push them to grow we are going to be able to meet the expectations that our students naturally have for us.

Finally, what’s your vision for Dwight Dubai?

Dwight has a strong and beautiful history and the Dubai school will be as brilliant as any of its peers.

Dwight has something absolutely unique that I aim to develop further. One way I can do so is how the Dwight ethos can impact education in our region. An exceptionally strong drive for me is that I know we are bringing to Dubai and the UAE a school that will allow students here to acquire a foundation that can really impact their future. My ambition is that our presence will benefit an enormous amount of students both inside and outside of the Dwight community.

There’s an opportunity for me as a school leader to significantly make a difference. The research shows that skills development is a lacking feature within Middle East schools and we can bring this to Dubai and the UAE. So Dwight’s vision, my personal vision and the UAE vision bridge perfectly together.

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