Character Educator in Focus: Erika Elkady

Since 2011, Erika Elkady has been Secondary Head of Jumeira Baccalaureate School (JBS) in Dubai, UAE. JBS is an International Baccalaureate (IB) Continuum School which became the first Kitemark School of Character outside the UK in November 2020. Erika is currently in her third year of study on the MA Character Education. In this blog, she discusses JBS’ journey to teach character.

Erika Elkady

Why character?

My teaching experience has been solely in IB schools and since I also hold a variety of consultancy roles for the IB, one may conclude that I am a firm believer of the IB educational philosophy. IB schools have flexibility regarding the teaching content and are encouraged through different aspects of the curriculum to focus on the development of the whole child. The IB learner profile traits and the approaches to learning skills are more or less ‘virtues in disguise,’ whilst service learning is also an important component of the IB philosophy. However, a few years ago I started to question whether we had not fallen in the trap of becoming too focused on student outcomes. Especially, the IB Diploma Programme has the potential to over-schedule, over-work and over-assess students. This, combined with a very competitive private school market and rigorous annual school inspections with an emphasis on academic results in the so-called core subjects, made me contemplate whether to change career paths. In the end, I decided to review the purpose of education by enrolling in the MA Character Education at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues. A decision I have not regretted as it gave me the academic rationale and motivation to confidently re-direct what should matter most at JBS.

This decision to re-evaluate our purpose could not have happened without the buy-in and support from the principal and the senior leadership team. Upon reflection, there may have been a number of reasons to why we agreed that change was needed. Firstly, as school leaders we all felt the need to be true to our calling which is to prepare students for the test of life and not a life of tests. In that regard, a character education program in our school made sense. We also felt that the IB educational philosophy and character education are a perfect match and so a review of our mission and vision and core values was required. Secondly, the Dubai education regulator introduced the importance of happiness and wellbeing. In November 2018, the student wellbeing census was rolled out to ‘measure’ wellbeing in all private/ international Dubai schools with the expectation that schools developed their annual wellbeing improvement plans. As the ultimate aim of character education is flourishing individuals and society, a conscious and well-planned program in the school would not only serve our school community but would be instrumental for inspection purposes too.

What does character education “look like” at Jumeira Baccalaureate School?

We did not want teachers to feel that character education is another “add on” to their busy schedules. However, it is important that they have a clear understanding of what it is, how it is linked to the IB philosophy, and what their role as “good” teachers is. We held a number of in-house workshops; encouraged staff to engage with the online Leading Character Education in Schools course from the Jubilee Centre (which we now expect all teachers and learning assistants to complete); made resources available electronically and in the school library; and made a commitment to offer (virtual) workshops provided by the Association for Character Education (ACE). It is promising that a number/ group of our teachers has started a character education work group in which they propose, develop and implement new character education initiatives within subjects and across the school. Furthermore, our recruitment strategy focusses now on hiring the ‘good’ teacher. We offer parent information sessions and have a home-school wellbeing committee to include parents in our character education implementation efforts. Students attend weekly moral education lessons, take part in themed assemblies and organize special days through the student council. We also have an extensive extra-curricular program for students. At the moment, we are re-assessing our service-learning program which we want to extend to the primary years.

What’s next?

The Kitemark Award validated our efforts but also made us more motivated to continue improving our character education program as we see the benefits for our students and teachers. So, we will continue working with ACE and hope to learn from other schools how to serve our school community better.

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