As assistant head, head of IB programmes and coordinator of theory of knowledge at Jumeirah English Speaking School, Lekanides has been instrumental in bringing the best of the IB curriculum and Diploma programme to the school.
Lekanides has rebuilt and developed the IB coordinator’s group in the UAE, encouraging collaboration within the IB ‘family’ of schools.
Having recently published the only book currently available in the IB curriculum globally on the extended essay, a key element on the IB diploma programme, he has, in the process established himself as an international authority on the subject.
Lekanides remains a committed and passionate supporter of the IB curriculum who with the rest of the IB team at JESS has helped put the school in the number one spot for IB in Dubai.
How long have you worked in the UAE?
I have been in the UAE for over ten years now, having worked in three (for-profit) schools before moving to JESS.
What made you choose the education sector?
This one’s simple. I had two inspirational teachers growing up and a mentor at university that acted as key catalysts when I was deciding my career pathway. I have a deep reverence for the beauty of knowledge and have always been fascinated by learning things from all areas of knowledge, be it astronomy and ethics or history and literature so the idea of being able to instil knowledge in others was irresistible. It was while I was training as a teacher that I learned it was less about imparting knowledge (though there is plenty of that) and more about cultivating in others the skill to learn for themselves. Suffice to say, the concept of ‘learning to learn’ was a real light-bulb moment that I’ve carried with me since those early days of academia.
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?
Standards. As with most countries, maintaining standards that meet or exceed those imposed by regulatory bodies (ie. examination and government) is a core challenge that we here in the UAE are also having to consistently wrestle with. Add to this the ambitious PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) targets set by the government and you can easily surmise that schools in the UAE have a lot to still contribute.
As a secondary facet, I would argue that greater collaboration among schools is also a continued challenge as the different providers (mostly profit, handful of not-for-profit) keep to themselves for various reasons, sometimes corporate in nature, sometimes driven by guarded attitudes to results performance. If we can overcome this mindset of isolationism and work with greater collective focus I believe those targets set by the government can be more readily met to the benefit of all our students.
What are the key milestones in your career so far?
Embracing the IB curriculum for starters. I can’t underplay the revelation that joining an IB school was for me all those many years ago. It is by far the best, most well-rounded educational curriculum on offer and a real magnet for people like myself who enjoy the interplay of knowledge across disciplines.
My deep and abiding engagement with the core components, Theory of Knowledge and Extended Essay, eventually put me on a publication trajectory. Working with Oxford University Press was an absolute delight as was writing the two publications in the interstices of my working life. These are the ‘flashy’ highlights though. The real milestones arise from working with students.
My favourite day in the year remains results night. The smiles and genuine raw emotions on display stay with me and put everything we do into perspective. When it comes to milestones, nothing beats being present at the end of a student’s school journey and seeing all your hard work bear fruit.
What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date - and why?
Aside from helping JESS (and other) students excel year on year I’d say helping rebuild and develop the IB coordinator’s group in the UAE is the thing I’m most proud of and keen to see grow further. I have tremendous faith in collaborative working relationships and expect much good to come from the work we are doing collectively.
Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?
A. An acute sense of professional pride – I cannot abide half-baked jobs, incomplete things or minimal effort and thus I get up each day with the mindset that things need doing and doing well.
B. Targets – I set myself daily goals, from minor jobs that can be done during the day to larger scale tasks that I need to keep chipping away at. Targets help give me a sense of completion which in turn provides that ever important sense of satisfaction, the energy of which you can recycle into the next day.
C. Interactions – My job is all about human interactions. As corny as it sounds, I genuinely love coming to work as no one day is the same simply by virtue of the fact that I deal with young people who introduce me to their unique learning habits, thought patterns and ways of looking at the world on a daily basis. It’s never dull and fits in nicely with my learning for life temperament. Having said that, I still can’t understand the fascination with One Direction nor have I uncovered the deeper layers of meaning encapsulated in the slang term YOLO.
(I also have cats that inevitably get me up each day with their antics and keep me grounded in the simple pleasures in life)
What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?
I am not one for titles or the grand stage despite appearances (and write ups such as this). To be frank, I struggle with identifying myself with concepts such as ‘influencer’ but I leave those judgements to others. Having said that, I don’t mind taking the stage to promote ventures I believe in.
What I would still like to achieve includes developing a working CPD programme among all UAE-based schools so that the talent and expertise of the many like-minded professionals employed here can be highlighted and shared. This should be free at the point of delivery and focus on specific aspects of the qualifications run by schools so that teachers receive practical support and advice to better enable their students to succeed. This is somewhat more of a challenge in our context due to the largely private (often corporate) nature of schools which makes sharing somewhat tricky.
Still, nothing gained if nothing ventured so I am committed to this path and it is already yielding good results. I would like to emulate this with students also by organising a rolling series of student conferences hosted by different schools and run by students sharing their own work, be it service initiatives, environmental work, artistic products and so on.
What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success?
If you want to see things come to fruition you must invest. Time is the most obvious but I would argue perseverance is the greater attribute to cultivate. Expect to hear no more than yes but keep at it.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?
Another easy one. The students. It is always about them. In their wackiness they keep us all sane.