Irene stops me at the bus station, wearing a smile as big as a house. She hugs me and asks:
“Hello, teacher, how are you doing?”
Then, spontaneously, she tells me about the Degree in Education she is currently taking, as Business Management (the subject I used to teach her) wasn’t really her thing. She remembered three things about me:
- The spontaneous sympathy that I made students feel for me while I was teaching. Especially, she remembered the “lumberjack” joke – once, I entered the classroom dressed in autumn-like colours and Roberta, one of my students, replied: “Teacher, you are dressed like a lumberjack!”
My prompt reply soon followed: “Yes, because today I’m going to orally examine you and I’ll cut all your legs like plants, for sure!”
The next day I had my outfit changed with blue-like colours, included a pair of old jeans that I purposely wore to avoid any further comment. Once in the classroom, Roberta said: “Teacher, you’re not dressed like a lumberjack today”
“No, I’m not. Today I’m dressed like a metal worker because, with you, I’ll go heavy as a press!”
My jokes ended up on the School Paper, in the section Never say Teacher!, and this gave a massive contribution in highlighting my irony.
- A relaxation activity called The Quiet Place of Nature that I suggested once. That day I found the classparticularly tired and stressed, as the students had an important test after my class: they were very nervous indeed. I suggested that we made a deal: If they were able to keep their attention high during the first part of my class, I would give them that relaxing trick to best handle the test. My lesson was great and the relaxation activity – a mixture of light music, closed eyes, a comfortable position and my voice as background, underlining some pleasing moments of calmness lived into the nature – helped to build a climate of peacefulness, helpful for anxious students.
- For sure, she remembered the moment I helped her solve the chat-addiction she was trapped into, which was having remarkable concerns on her school profit. I remember that Irene came to me for help as she used to spend hours chatting on the web. I immediately understood that it wasn’t me the person who could help her: she needed an expert. It was hard to put such a personal and intimate issue on somebody else’s hands: you don’t easily trust a stranger, but maybe it’s easier with a spontaneous, a bit naif Business Management teacher who talks about human relationships. Putting the problem into the school psychologist was not easy task but, at least partially, it worked. In such situations, the teacher puts themselves out there and cannot avoid the relationship of trust born between them. By collaborating with experts, he/she must be able to make the student understand the value of that collaboration, in order to help her solve the problem. Theoretically speaking, problems can be solved, but they highly rely on the dynamics going on among teachers and psychologists and also on the psychologist’s personal characteristics.
To sum up, Irene could not remember one single Business Management class, the actual reason why I was providing a service at the school.
All things considered, Irene wasn’t as bad as a pupil. I could remember she scored 6 and 7 out of 10, both on written and oral tests. The logical-mathematical skills developed through the BM study surely helped her during her studies, but this was nothing less than the typical justification of a teacher.
For sure, she chose something else out of my classes: something more related to her disposition, rather than her skills. It was her disposition towards human relationships that made her value those few situations where I put the student at the centre not as a pupil learning BM, but as a human being.
Before being adults and kids, educators and learners, teachers and students, we all are human beings.
Each role inside the school is part of a human-relation dynamic. Students can immediately feel whether a teacher is there for them or for his/her career, for giving undeniable lectures or for putting themselves at their same level and help them grow.
The guide walks on the same ground of those guided: the difference lies on the fact that those who guide know the way and therefore need to watch the path of those following. Taking into account everyone’s path, everyone’s needs, everyone’s abilities may be hard, but the expert guide knows that, during hard times, his/her experience becomes a reference point for the whole group. Therefore, the authority gained in the fieldis far worthier than an imposed authority: it makes students look for you even after the school ends, to help them find their way into the dark path of both personal and professional life. The teacher-guide, the teacher who collaborated with the psychologist, the teacher trustworthy. These are all traits of a professional figure that, to his/her professional and educational skills, adds new relation-linked skills, essential to nurture the educational value of the learner.
The learning process… More than once I asked myself about the difference between learning and teaching: two sides of the same coin, that, nevertheless, has different images and, therefore, different references.
A learning-centred school is student-centred and based on understanding-focused activities: it’s a change in the school model.
Trying to put aside, only for a few moments, the several job-related issues affecting teachers, it’s important to remember that without students there isn’t a school. Therefore, the school is there to favour the children, kids and youth’s cultural, scientific, cognitive and educational growth. No pupils, no school. Those who lost their teaching job because kids did not enrol as numerous as they used to, know this perfectly well – accounting-based or surveyors schools for instance. This led to huge suffering among the departments of techical subjects.
There is a general feeling that, during the years, the school has become more and more based on the school staff: someone at the government once called the school staff problem The Mystic Body – an untouchable part in case of any school reformation. I personally dealt with it when I tried to face the problem of a charter school willing to fund an international school: the introduction of a 4-year high school inside the Italian national school system was seen as a threat to the Mystic Body, that would consequently be reduced, something absolutely inconceivable in Italy, although not in Europe where high schools generally last 4 years. I faced legal vacuum, ad institutum laws, procedures that become legal through Italian-style loopholes: hence, anything and everything.
At this point, the main theme shall be clearer: the pupil as a person is at the centre of the school system, which should be learning-oriented rather than teacher-oriented.
In other words, how should the school change to adapt to this model?
Starting from the idea that each kid has a talent and that the working and university realities have, within themselves, the potential to help those talents grow, I introduced the personalised teaching through the CFO system (Crediti Formativi Orari – Educational Time Credits). By virtue of the scholastic autonomy allowed by the law, I introduced some class hours dedicated to courses (always in the name of the law) where students could be free to choose the subjects to study, according to their personal interests. I made experts create a purposely dedicated software able to handle such a complex and new management system. At the same time, this new Educational Structure resulted in the opportunity for teachers to take on the challenge and take advantage of the situation by getting involved with their own passions, their attitudes and personal relations with the working sector and universities: as a result there were plenty of new and brilliant course offering suggestions.
This is how the IT courses specialised on Educational Robotics and the Medial Education courses were born: students were officially examined and could have the credits recognised by the university. Courses in Sanitary-Biology with practice in local laboratories and real operating rooms, Music courses as additional subject, Englishcourses taught by native speakers of English were also introduced. All these courses have been offered to students in order to favour their personalised educational path based on their own interests and, therefore, to promote, support and value talents. It respected the Italian Legislation and after being introduced into the high school, it also carried with it changes in the middle and elementary school system (I beg your pardon, first-grade secondary and primary schools).
As a principal of a K12, I had the opportunity to insert the interesting initiatives of the Educational Robotics, Language, Music courses into the so-called Vertical Curriculum logics, namely the development of educational programs for the whole length of the school path, thus favouring the meeting of students and teachers from different school levels.
That’s how I could experience and see the gradual change from a traditional school to the School of Talents.
Head of GSO School