In the conditions of decentralization, communities became able to make decisions autonomously. Thanks to that, education system in communities is transforming faster and with higher quality in accordance with the principles of the New Ukrainian School.
Among the participants of School 3.0 project were the local department of education and the community’s two schools: Pyriatyn lyceum and its branch, which have about a thousand students. 78 teachers are working at Pyriatyn lyceum, making it a hub educational institution. The branch of Pyriatyn lyceum (formerly Pyriatyn elementary and middle school No 1) has a long history dating 105 years back.
Pyriatyn community mentor Oksana Oliinyk says: “I expected to encounter old timers who would not welcome changes. I feared that my proposals would fall on deaf ears. However, I was warmly welcomed, and teachers did not appear to be at a loss.”
When the project started, the schools faced a number of challenges. The most difficult task was to build efficient communications and meaningful partnerships between the two schools, with parents and the community in general.
The program’s mentor Oksana Oliinyk says: “I could feel grudge and internal resistance to the school’s transformation into a branch. Therefore, the absence of efficient communication, misunderstanding between the staff and the school principals affected the students, who did not want to talk to each other.” Instead of forging a partnership, the schools began to compete. Because of that situation, schools were unable to enter into partnerships with local businesses, try to bring in additional funding and learn to become self-sufficient.
The communication challenge was not only external but also internal. The principals saw the need to improve communication along the “teachers-parents-students” chain. There was no feedback between them. The students showed no initiative, being unsure whether they will be heard. The parents did not take interest in the academic process, erroneously believing that that is only the school’s business. Oksana Oliinyk also noted that they at the lyceum did not perceive young teachers as an important element of academic process: for example, they weren’t trusted with class mastership.
The branch faced a different challenge: changing the institution’s image. This school is located in the private rural sector informally called “cling-land”. Moreover, students of other schools with whom there were misunderstandings were often recommended to get transferred to that school. That’s why the branch has for a long time had the reputation of an “unprestigious” school. Creating inclusion and engaging parents in academic process became a challenge for them.
The branch’s principal Lidia Stefanova says: “It is important for us to make sure that residents of the micro-district are interested in education. The students closed themselves off; it was hard for them to compete with children from other schools, and they were afraid of setbacks.”
Things that changed during the project
Establishing internal communications and organizing partner conferences
The principals learned to delegate some of their powers to the team, trusting them and establishing clearly-defined areas of responsibility. The schools began to adopt collegiate instead of unilateral decisions, and the teaching staff started to feel their influence over organizational processes.
“Perhaps I was a more of authoritarian manager in the past, but now, we handle all matters in a democratic way. I like the idea of exchanging colleagues with other schools, and want to implement it during the next academic year,” the branch’s principal Lidia Stefanova said.
The schools developed a tradition for joint development of teachers via trainings, master classes and discussions of literature. In particular, Lidia Stefanova said that the next practice of this kind will involve discussion of Leader In Me book between the teachers to improve their personal competencies.
A partner conference is a meeting of parents, teachers and students to discuss contemporary matters and adopt joint decisions (more information about this format is available here). Both schools held partner conferences, which helped them hear student requests, engage parents in academic process and understand together what the school should become in the future. Local TV also reported about it, drawing public attention.
In particular, the lyceum was able to resolve the issue of correct interaction between teachers and students thanks to a student survey form developed by the principal together with a psychologist. During the second conference, young teachers were facilitators, working as neutral information gatherers. The team realized their significance.
Speaking about the conference’s outcome, the lyceum’s principal Larysa Ponomarenko said: “We heard the parents and children, and noted familiar things. When you’re constantly looking at the same thing, you perceive it as an ordinary picture, but if it was voiced to you by someone else, you begin to analyze it.”
Thus, for example, they changed design of the second floor for senior students, making it brighter and colorful, and organized an extended-day group the way children saw it: with film watching and discussions, discos and interactive games.
Engaging students in the school’s transformation, and cooperation between the lyceum’s and the branch’s students
After holding joint meetings and surveying students, the schools were able to meet the children’s needs. They made a tree of problems (detailed information about this instrument is available here), and the lyceum’s administration has finally solved one of the important, yet previously not discussed problems – the school cafeteria’s menu. So now, children eat there with pleasure. Together with parents, they solved the problem of the absence of partitions in restrooms. These seemingly simple solutions helped create comfortable space for students.
The inner space in the schools has also changed: it now has a crisis help box (where students can leave anonymous letters for teachers) and a creative wall with recommendations/requests from children to the administration (a poster with stickers, which children can add at any time), visualizing the needs and achievements. Pyriatyn lyceum also has Moments of Our Life board with photographs, and the branch has a special poster on which everyone can place a sticker with ideas.
The community organized, jointly with department of education, a strategic session for the youth which united students from the two schools. As a result, students themselves created a theatrical play about fighting the bulling. The latest partner conference at Pyriatyn lyceum was attended by TV journalists and potential partners: a sports school and kindergartens. During the conference, students staged their play, and teachers recognized themselves by the phrases said on the stage.
The mentor admitted that she expected a shock from the administration, but the principals learned to use frank feedback as an auxiliary resource. “Now, I have something to discuss with colleagues,” the branch’s principal Lidia Stefanova said. Thanks to joint organization of the play and later of the Theater Forum, students of both schools “mixed together” and befriended each other, relieving the past tension.
Mastering the elements of fundraising and establishing meaningful partnerships
The lyceum began to take into account the branch’s financial interests, making all calculations transparent. It has vastly improved the relationship between the principals. Both schools tried themselves in fundraising, leaving their comfort zone. Writing applications for a grant without experience is difficult, but Pyriatyn community schools prove that it is possible.
Therefore, the lyceum is now implementing four projects, funded thanks to the win among applications for public budget: Voice of Lyceum school radio, installation of a playground ladder in a small garden next to the school, interactive equipment for third- and fifth-graders.
The Pyriatyn lyceum’s branch received 180,000 hryvnias from a local company for Informal Education Hub thanks to a recommendation from the Pro.Svit team. So now, teachers and students can use it as multifunctional space which has the necessary furniture and computers. The hub will also have a pottery hobby group. Surely, it has vastly improved the school’s image, because the hub is open to the entire community.
Having established internal communications and settled personal misunderstandings, the schools began to seek external partnerships. The head of education department is working on implementing Google instruments in academic process and in teacher’s work, and organizes meetings of the community’s school principals to exchange experience. At these meetings, the attendees share achievements, methodologies, advices regarding inspections, new reporting forms, etc.
They also started the practice of exchanging experience between school principals from various regions of Ukraine. For example, on 2-6 December the lyceum received visitors from the Donetsk Oblast. Pyriatyn lyceum’s principal Larysa Ponomarenko also spoke about her visits to Leader academic lyceum in Boyarka to evaluate academic progress of 10th and 11th grade students and exchange experience in forming classes for in-depth study of particular disciplines.
Pyriatyn lyceum made an agreement with Education Management University, which will assign coaches who in January will conduct separate one-day trainings for teachers and the administration. The school also established cooperation with Kyiv Polytechnic Institute and Poltava University of Pedagogy, whereby lecturers from these universities will visit the school to read lectures and show experiments. There will be also tours of these universities for the school’s graduates. Teachers will undergo on-the-job training in universities (in particular, Poltava University of Pedagogy). Thanks to these partnerships, the quality of education in the community will improve and the students will have an opportunity to reach beyond the secondary education.
The branch’s principal Lidia Stefanova has a recommendation for teachers: “You need to communicate more; this way, truth will be born faster and perceiving the world becomes easier.” The Pro.Svit Center for Innovative Education team also shares this belief.
This text was prepared with the support from the European Union and its member states Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Poland and Sweden. The content of this text is the sole responsibility of its authors, and under no circumstances may it be construed as reflecting the views of U-LEAD with Europe Program or the governments of Ukraine, the European Union and its member states Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Poland and Sweden.
All photos were taken from Pyriatyn lyceum’s Facebook group
By Polina Goch