Having graduated from Goldsmiths, University of London with a B.Ed in Drama and Education Stephen Jankowski began his career teaching theatre in London. Unhappy with how the world of education was evolving, at the age of 30 he decided to leave London for Paris. He put aside his teaching career for “formation continue” and set up his own company. In 2005 an international school in Paris offered him the opportunity to return to academia to teach English and theatre; this was the perfect time for Stephen to teach again as he realised how much he had enjoyed teaching and he now had the maturity to teach children again. Today Stephen is Head Teacher of the Kingsworth International School, a newly established school in Paris.
Like so many people I came here to live for one or two years. Initially I was either going to go back or travel to other countries, but I got married and have since stayed. My three kids were born in France. They are bilingual and bicultural which puts me in a great position as a teacher and Head of an international school. I have an understanding of the complexity of those issues, because they are rather complex. You don’t know who you are “Am I English? Am I French?”, “Do I think in English or do I think in French?” When my children are together they speak French. All of them are now in Anglo-Saxon countries. Two are in England and one is in Australia.
Can you tell us about your role and the school?
Kingsworth is a new school in its first academic year, and I think it will be a very successful year. We have 55 students at the moment with over 30 different nationalities which is very interesting. Although my role is Head, I don’t want to give up teaching and have been teaching a lot this year. Next year I will continue to teach, I’ll probably only teach theatre and English. Next year I hope to establish the A Level theatre course.
So teaching is still an important role for you?
Yes, the reason I want to keep on teaching is because I’m called Head Teacher, so when I have a meeting with parents and indeed teachers, I have to know what I’m talking about and I need to understand the demands of teaching.
But as Head I do have other responsibilities. I work with the parents and the school president, and I think about the identity of the school and try to differentiate us from other international schools. My aim is first to make it a pleasure for students to come to school. We have many children who have attended other international schools and have previously felt under pressure to achieve academic results. Here the onus is not on the academic results. That does not mean we are not looking for results, but the stress is on whether a child enjoys coming to school and whether the child enjoys learning. If these two things come together they become good academically because they are looking at education as a pleasure. That’s the theory, but it’s not always so easy. The other onus is on freedom. We don’t have a policy of school uniform; we have a policy where children try to get involved in the discipline of other children. Some of the older children will look after the younger ones when necessary, rather than always having to come to the Head Teacher when they are to be disciplined. Freedom and responsibility are very strong here, which links to the idea of education for pleasure and education to become a fully fledged human being.
Kingsworth promotes pupil competitions, can you tell us about them?
The art competition is very important and in some ways links back to what I said before. We insist that all children learn art, theatre and sport because we think that these are a part of being educated. So the fact that you may have a scientific mind should not exclude the fact that you should also be sporty and have interest in art and vice verse. Hopefully next year we’ll have theatre competitions; there will be also be a sports day at the end of the year. I should underline, that we want to keep the school small, we don’t want to be any bigger than 280 pupils. That is to keep the structure of the idea that we are a family, a cohesive social unit. That means my job as Head Teacher is to personally know every child. Julien Bertrand, the Deputy Head, and I are more of an artistic bent, in theatre and in music. We have written a musical, together entitled Haunted Heart aka The Incredible Flying Teapots, some of which will be performed in June. All the children, one way or another, will be involved in that whether it is acting, scenery or backstage involvement. So the idea is that we always look for things that can unify the school and give us an identity. The idea of competition is healthy. It’s not about being the best, but appreciating each other’s work and accepting healthy competition. Learning to lose is important.
We mentioned earlier that you didn’t like the way education was evolving in the early stages of your teaching career, how has education evolved and how has the school adapted?
Education has changed enormously. We live in a word of Internet, and we as adults need to change our mindset. Knowledge is so accessible; we have not prepared children enough for critical thinking. We are in a world where automatic jobs are changing the way we work and you don’t have the classic relationship between boss and secretary anymore because bosses use computers, or the factory worker pressing buttons. It is being labelled the knowledge society and we need to prepare children for that. At Kingsworth we work on three things; critical thinking, independency at an early age and learning to learn. Preparing the child for the future.
If I was to come in with my children the first thing I’d look for is to see if my child is happy. My second daughter, like all my children, went through the French education system. I remember when she was kept back one year (“redoublement”). I tried speaking to the Head, I told him I thought she should go up, but there was no real engagement. At Kingsworth it is key to be very engaging with parents.
I discuss practically all aspects with Julien Bertrand our Deputy as well as the teachers; we discuss the key issues. I would ask; how open and democratically run is the school? In my case, I’m the Head and have to make decisions and will make decisions, but as a school we are a unit and I listen to Julien and the teachers and of course the parents.