Interview done by Maija Knutti, Coordinator for the Educational Council for Primary and Nursery (CEP&M)
Ms Alexia Giannakopoulou is the new Deputy Director for Maternelle and Primary in Woluwe. This year will be her first school year at EEB2 !
For this occasion, Maija Knutti, Coordiantor of the Educational Council for Primary and Nursery (CEP&M) interviewed Ms Giannakopoulou and inquired about how the first few weeks of 2023-2024 went, the main upcoming challenges, her role as Deputy Director and an insight into her projects, hobbies and background.
It was a very pleasant meeting for both parties and we look forward to working together to serve the school community.
Can you please tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I am married. I have a son who is studying medicine in Berlin and a daughter who graduated in psychology. My hobbies are climbing, cycling and swimming, and also painting. I grew up In Greece. My Bachelor is in English Language and Literature. I have two Masters, one in Foreign Language Teaching and the other one in School Management and Educational Policy. And I did a PhD in Germany on didactics and pedagogy. My career as a teacher is a foundation for everything else I have done because I think that to be a leader in education, you must be a teacher first. Then you understand exactly what it means to be in a classroom. I was a teacher for many years, both in primary and secondary education in Greece. After that, I became a School Advisor. I was responsible for a school district with 300 teachers. I was responsible for their professional development, and I did a lot of trainings myself. I also coached the schools in my district and supported them in finding solutions to different problems. Additionally I worked part-time as a university tutor at the Hellenic Open University. I co-authored books on teaching English. My career in the European School system started in Munich, where I was a Deputy Director for five years. And the next chapter of my career is here at the European School of Brussels and I’m very excited about it.
Ms Alexia Giannakopulou/ (Deputy Director N/P Woluwe) (on the right) and Maija Knutti (CEP&M Coordinator/ APEEE)
How the first weeks at EEB2 have been?
It may sound a little bit surprising, but I must say very good. Of course, this is a challenging period for us with the temporary move of P1/P2 to Evere. I knew there were going to be difficulties based on my experiences in Munich where we moved the whole primary to a new location. We have dedicated a lot of time and energy to organisation and I believe we will eventually solve all the problems.
What I found wonderful here, is that from the beginning I have had a sense of belonging. I feel there is a strong team spirit. It means that we are all in this together and everyone gives input and we work very well together and support each other.
What do you see as the best parts of the EEB2 and what do you think are going to be the main upcoming challenges?
First of all, as this is a big school, organisation is very important. And here I see very good organisation and very good structure. One thing that impressed me is how things are completely digitalised, truly paperless. I also see and feel the high quality of education. From my visits so far around the school and the classrooms I am very pleased. I’m happy to feel a very warm and open atmosphere. And we have good facilities here even though there is not so much space. There is a large number of projects and already I’m seeing a few of them and I look forward to also experiencing the rest. I see a well-structured educational support system tailored to the people’s needs. And the teaching team and the management team are very enthusiastic and committed.
For the challenges, I have to mention at the moment the temporary move of P1/P2 to Evere of course. And the school existing at two different sites.
Can you tell us a little about your role and duties as a Deputy Director?
It is a multidimensional role. You have to implement the regulations of the European School system and make sure that the new policies are being implemented. You have to ensure the quality in every area. But you have to also ensure a good climate in the school, which is very important. You must also make sure that every child is included and supported. Not only the ones who have learning difficulties, but also the ones who need to be challenged more because for them differentiation may not be enough. You must give them more opportunities. You have to recruit staff and motivate them to develop further. And to help and support the management team in managing this big organisation. As a Deputy Director, part of my job is always to cultivate good relationships with every stakeholder.
What are your passions/ambitions in education? Do you have any specific projects in mind?
Well, my motto mainly is, you know, to make a difference. That means to have a positive impact on people’s lives. I also embrace the holistic education. I mean to develop the child as a whole. It is not only mathematics and language. Children must have opportunities to unfold all their talents and competencies. And of course, active learning is very important. It’s important to link learning to real life. Also, values are very important because they can be taught through education, for example the European values. I also value a growth mindset, meaning it’s important not to focus on what is missing but on the next goal. I think that in this era it is very important to improve health consciousness and encourage every child to think what is healthy for them. Generally, I wish to have happy children here at the school who will become happy adults. Happy citizens who care for others, are responsible, and take care of the environment. I would like to develop Erasmus + and European projects. I want to see what has happened here and how we can develop in that area further. Not only the projects we already have but to have more cooperation with other systems and other schools, whether it be universities or schools in other countries or other European schools.
What values/lessons do you cherish from your home country and from your previous experience at the European School in Munich?
From Greece, I would say human and democratic values. It’s in my DNA. As a leader I’m very human and compassionate. I want to hear what others think and have a shared commitment. From Germany and the European School Munich, I think I learned a lot about quality assurance. How to you ensure the quality of education. How you follow up on all the projects and see what you have achieved, what you have not achieved yet, and what still needs to be done.
What do you think about the European school system?
First of all, this international education with a multicultural and multilingual focus is great. Also, the competence-based curriculum and this holistic education. The competence-based means that it is not only content that the children are learning, but they’re really developing competencies. I am not referring only to the eight key competencies of the European School system, but all the other life competencies as well.
And the high social and economic status is important in my opinion. Because education is not only what the school does, but also what the home does. The majority of the pupils come from high social and economic family backgrounds. That often means that the parents are very supportive for the education for their children and there are a lot of resources. And of course, the last thing but not least is the qualified staff.
What role do you envisage parents playing in the school community?
The child’s education and character development start at home. Parents’ role in education is vital. Parents must engage with their children’s education to understand the goals of different subjects, the school’s aspirations and also to care for the wellbeing of their children. I’m not saying that this is not happening, but I remind to be more conscious of this.
I encourage parents to find ways to reinforce learning at home. Maybe to speak with their children about what is happening at school. To show that they’re interested. And if there is some area where they need help, not be afraid but trust the school. The school is here to help the children and we have resources and expertise. We invite parents to work together with the educators and all the staff in the school to support children’s development.
What greetings do you want to send to the parents?
I like to motivate the idea that children learn from parents. In the other school where I was, we started a project, where we invited some parents to talk about their areas of expertise to the pupils. Parents came and it was impressive. They used amazing presentations in a language that was fully appropriate for the children and the children were very attentive. It was a very good initiative and I want to develop something similar here. And of course, any kind of suggestions or proposals for projects are very welcome.
I would also like to send a message that the school is undergoing significant change at the moment because it’s gradually transferring the nursery and the primary to the Evere site. I am aware of the complexities of the significant reorganisation but I welcome the challenge and the opportunity of helping to maintain the pedagogical continuity while managing also the logistics and maintaining the two sites as one school. I want to say that we work very hard to contribute to the school and its evolving needs. I feel that I have a mission here and I want to do my job with enthusiasm and with passion. And when I get support from everybody around me, that’s the driving force for me. Finally, I wish every family a wonderful and successful new school year.