Over the past few years, the Dabar Foundation, together with the Teach For All programme, has managed to train as many as 87 teachers, enlist 60 schools in the change project programme, and involve 37,000 pupils and 360 current teachers in change projects.

Švietimo Naujienos discusses the change projects in a bit more depth.

A change project is a space where teacher leadership manifests itself through school-wide change to ensure that the most disadvantaged and low-performing pupils engage in school life and unleash their potential. The Teach For All teacher, together with the school principal, vice principal and four community educators, works with visiting researchers, the Teach For All team and other experts to create an inclusive education change at the school adapted for their community. The changes are measured by studies that to date show statistically significant and positive results. After two years, the school plans further steps for augmenting and continuing the change and becomes a member of the Teach For All network community, where it shares its experiences of inclusion with the heads of other schools; meanwhile, additional Teach For All teachers are assigned to the school and new ones are enlisted.

Members of the tenth generation school community (Tauragė Šaltinis Progymnasium, Vilnius Pelėda Primary School and Vilnius Senvagė Gymnasium) presented the change projects implemented at their schools and shared the experience gained from them during the second part of Teach For All School (Non)Standard Conference. Even though the projects were implemented during the difficult period of the pandemic, all of the speakers unanimously stated that thanks to some outstanding creativity and focus, they were a success.

Tauragė Šaltinis Progymnasium Principal, Jūratė Lazdauskienė: What a 10-minute break can change at a school, or “Mission Dragonfly”

During her presentation entitled “What a 10-minute break can change at a school, or ‘Mission Dragonfly’“, Tauragė Šaltinis Progymnasium Principal Jūratė Lazdauskienė introduced the change project that was implemented at her school. The speaker said that the starting point on this journey was the task entrusted to her, as the school principal, to form a change team at the school. To accomplish the task, she used the symbol of a dragonfly, which means success, drive and change. After taking this first step, selection for the change team was organised by sending a letter to the staff introducing the programme that the school had entered. Teachers were invited to write motivation letters for two positions: mentor to the incoming Teach For All teacher, and member of the change team. Once the change team was formed, the principal gave each of its members a dragonfly pin. The teachers who didn’t make the team were invited to join the project as volunteers.

The first tasks of the change team were to “measure” where the school is now and to shape the project itself. Ms Lazdauskienė said that there were a lot of data and there was a lot to be happy about when analysing them, but one indicator was very disturbing – it turns out that more than 63% of schoolchildren in grades 3-4 find school life interesting, while only 28% of schoolchildren in grades 5-8 feel the same way. Looking at these survey results, it was decided that something had to be done to get rid of the boredom and increase children’s motivation to go to school.

Only the children themselves could answer the question of how to get rid of the boredom, so another survey was conducted. At this stage, the Pupils Council was also involved – they were asked to conduct surveys in their own classes, group them, and bring five ideas into the school’s idea basket.

Following the internal classroom surveys, five ideas suggested by the children were selected: creating more outdoor activity spaces for children in grades 5-8, creating quiet spaces, setting up more places for older pupils to play chess and checkers, creating a board game area for older pupils, and organising fun activities during the long breaks. These ideas gave rise to a change project that was called “20×20” – 20 breaks of 20 minutes.

The idea of the project, whose main symbols became the characters from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, was first presented to the school’s teachers. The presentation was done in the auditorium, which was turned into an unconventional space – the teachers found themselves in the moonlight, and after overcoming a mass of baobabs, they saw the school Rose. When the auditorium was lit up, all of the teachers were given a rose. The project was presented to the pupils on a similar principle. The older pupils and graduates of the school were recruited to turn the entire school into a “baobab jungle” overnight, which the other children had to conquer when they came to school the next morning. On the day of the project presentation, The Little Prince was read at school, and together with the teachers, the children created their own Rose, which they took home as a message to their parents about the project starting at the school. Ms Lazdauskienė pointed out that the children were especially impressed by the fact that the project was prepared and will be implemented according to the ideas and wishes that they expressed.

Ms Lazdauskienė said that strengthening mutual relationships and increasing the inclusion of children were the main objectives of the project. The speaker was very pleased with the assistance provided by the education support professionals, who knew the specific children and pointed teachers toward to the pupils who needed help. Efforts were made to include pupils with behavioural and learning difficulties while ensuring respect for everyone, and to appreciate their differences. Parents were not left out either – they also noted that they wanted other forms of involvement in school activities.

After the declaration of the pandemic, the project moved to the virtual space – an e-mail was created for the project where children could sign up for interesting breaks. Even though this situation required a great deal of concentration, the pandemic did not prevent the activities planned from being carried out.

Ms Lazdauskienė was thrilled that during implementation of the change project, they not only managed to create a tradition of new breaks, feel that every child can be reached, and maintain a focused community – they also got the greatest gift of all in the form of Šarūnė Urbikaitė, a Teach For All teacher who won the hearts of children and parents alike.

Vilnius Pelėda Primary School Vice Principal for Education Viktorija Vitkauskienė, senior teacher Rasita Petrulevičienė and Teach For All teacher Ieva Sakalauskaitė-Ninelli: Technologies. A barrier or a resource for building a connection?

In her opening remarks, Vilnius Pelėda Primary School Vice Principal for Education Viktorija Vitkauskienė said that for some time, the school had some problems relating to information technology; furthermore, the school community wanted change and felt ready for it, and one team member was missing. This is how it was decided to participate in the Teach For All programme, which helped the school get both things by starting to take small steps toward big ambitions.

After talking with the school community and parents, school leaders noticed that the school lacked modern teaching tools, methods and more innovative lessons. This resulted in discussions about the extent to which this will serve inclusive education, and whether technology can really be used to reach every child, help children prepare lessons, and make lessons more interesting. The journey began with training and long consultations with specialists, and six months later, the project was presented to the community.

The first goal set was to create more attractive and accessible education for each pupil through the use of information and communication technologies. A step-by-step plan was drawn up, which included improving the qualification of teachers in the field of information and communication technologies, creating a virtual library, cooperating with other schools, setting up a computer class, and integrating computer science lessons into lessons of other subjects.

Ms Vitkauskienė conveyed an important message to other schools preparing to participate in Teach For All projects – creative, motivated people who want to work with children will be coming to their schools, so it is important to not let them go, and retain them not only in their own schools, but also in the education system in general. She urged the schools to give these teachers all of the attention they need, as well as comprehensive assistance – especially psychological and emotional – as this will definitely allow them to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Teach For All teacher Ieva Sakalauskaitė-Ninelli: A teacher’s desire to learn unlocks a lot of doors

In sharing the experience that she gained during the project, Teach For All teacher Ieva Sakalauskaitė-Ninelli said she was happy that she had found herself and saw significant meaning and benefits. She said that there are myriad learning opportunities, and even though this requires more time and resources, it is a truly valuable investment. The teacher assured the conference participants that a teacher’s desire to learn is the secret key that unlocks a lot of doors.

At the beginning of the project, when the computer class was just one of the school’s visions, informatics lessons were aided by the Informatics Without a Computer programme, which has tasks for children of various ages about how computers work, and all you need is a piece of paper and the desire to learn. A virtual library, a Google Drive, and various folders were created to store methodological material, useful information, and various forms and applications, thus saving time and paper.

Ms Sakalauskaitė-Ninelli also recalled the cooperation they had with the Tauragė Šaltinis Progymnasium and the Vilnius Barbora Radvilaitė Progymnasium, where teachers from the Vilnius Pelėda Primary School visited to see how these ideas and projects are applied in practice. The change project plans were modified by a pandemic – they had to be put aside with survival mode turned on, as the teachers tried to provide quality education remotely. However, once everyone got used to the situation, they returned to the project and decided that this pandemic not only did not interfere with the activities at the Vilnius Pelėda Primary School, but, on the contrary, offered new implementation opportunities.

Senior teacher Rasita Petrulevičienė: Information technology was not a barrier but a resource for the school

Rasita Petrulevičienė, a senior teacher at the Vilnius Pelėda Primary School, noted that in the context of the pandemic, they managed to turn some disadvantages in the project implementation plan into advantages. Once the computer class was set up, the steps of the change project began to accelerate and meant getting involved in another project where both pupils and teachers learned creative programming. And even though before that, informatics lessons were planned without a computer and it was thought that once the computer class was set up, lessons in other subjects would be gradually integrated, it ended up that not only were the subjects integrated, but a separate informatics lesson also appeared in the primary school schedule. Pupils learned creative programming, delved into the secrets of informatics, and figured out how to use information technology for themselves and their needs in a targeted and interesting manner. The speaker said that the pandemic was also good in that the entire computer technology base was expanded – the school got more computers and tablets, as well as the SMART board that they had waited so long for. One of the objectives of the change project was also to improve the qualification of teachers in information technology, and the first preparation for distance learning helped a lot in achieving this.

Ms Petrulevičienė also drew attention to the fact that the change project opened up new opportunities, for example, to use digital content more often in the lessons themselves, even during contact education at school. She welcomed the creation of the school domain and the fact that the teachers finally got work e-mail addresses. As of this school year, the pupils also have their own e-mail addresses and are learning how to use them. The way of using information technology was also considered in the process of community mobilisation – it was spontaneously decided to do all of the traditional school events remotely, and this resulted in greater community involvement. The speaker shared a few specific examples: the traditional school talent show, a public holiday competition, and remote afternoon reading sessions organised by the school librarian.

In conclusion, Ms Petrulevičienė said that after two years of active working toward the change project, they wanted to find out if they were moving in the right direction, so a second measurement was conducted which revealed that information technology in this case was not a barrier for the school and its community, but rather – a resource for creating a more interesting and engaging education for every pupil in the school.

Vilnius Senvagė Gymnasium psychologist and Teach For All alumnus Monika Petkevičienė: But who needs it? Motivation for changes

Vilnius Senvagė Gymnasium psychologist and Teach For All alumnus Monika Petkevičienė began her presentation with the fact that pupils and their parents often ask teachers and the school administration, “But who needs it?” The speaker considered how to create the kind of learning environment where both the pupils and the teachers can be themselves, engage and become involved – how to motivate change and the desire to change the current situation from an inner hesitation to the knowledge of “who needs it”.

The beginning was the idea to participate in the Teach For All change project and invite two new teachers to join their team: primary school teacher Rasa Bartasevičiūtė and psychologist Monika Petkevičienė. As part of the project, the two new team members took part in the change development and planning phases, and later became involved in its implementation.

During the Teach For All team building session, the members tried to put themselves in the shoes of each pupil, reviewed the diversity of pupils at the school, and focused on the children who do not attend class, are facing problems at school, and have individual qualities. They tried to comprehend their situation, and thought about what they would like and what they need for them to come to school and be active members of the community. During the discussion, it was concluded that every pupil wants to feel needed, and wants their qualities and abilities to be valued and needed by the school community. Analysis of the data collected in spring 2019 also contributed to the attempt to understand the mindset of these pupils. A tendency was observed that pupils, parents and teachers alike talk about the need for more interesting, non-traditional lessons and projects, more active teaching methods, and differentiated tasks; mutual trust was also emphasised.

The starting point was the fact that non-traditional lessons were held at the school for eight days in the school year, and the pupils did not engage – for them, it was like another excursion, so this precious time is wasted.

The change project was faced with the challenge of creating an inclusive environment where each member of the community would be an active participant. They came up with the idea of creating a sustainable model for experiential learning activity days at the school. A plan was put together over the first six months, with a lot of ideas submitted by the teachers, but all of the plans were thwarted by the pandemic, so a decision was made to move all of these days to the second half of June.

However, the project was carried out, albeit remotely – the teachers offered the pupils topics and they could choose which activities to take part in. Over time, it was observed that the pupils put in more effort than was required of them, with some choosing to do not one, but two projects; a whopping 97% of the pupils completed the assigned tasks and became involved and participated. This was the indicator that showed that inclusion was successful, even in extreme conditions. The speaker said that even the most introverted children got involved, which shows that the opportunity to have a more individual connection with the pupil proved correct.

Most of the time, the project was carried out under pandemic conditions, so there was a desire to give meaning to the work done by the pupils and showcase it. This is how they came up with the idea of organising a fair where the pupils’ work could be shown, and once they returned to contact learning, everyone who wanted to could present or exhibit their work at the fair.

The pupils themselves claimed that these activities helped them to better understand certain topics, which they did not manage to do during class. The speaker shared a success story where one pupil who has a speech disorder didn’t stutter a single time while presenting his project with his friend. The sense of community, connection and atmosphere created by the teacher helped the child to speak smoothly. Ms Petkevičienė assured the listeners that every teacher who participated in the project could share similar achievements.

After the project, the assessment of the teacher’s support for the pupil improved, and the children said that they were receiving better assessments from their homeroom teachers. There was also a decrease in bullying, and the children in the higher grades rated their teacher’s attention to their personality, peer support, and school atmosphere better than two years ago. Over the course of the project, a sustainable model of experiential learning activities was developed that will be used in the future.

Ms Petkevičienė concluded her speech with the words of Daiva Lebednikaitė, the vice principal at Vilnius Senvagė Gymnasium: “This is a new current in the old riverbed of the Neris, a new approach, new teaching methods, new dissemination of ideas, and this is what helped bring about change.” Throughout the circle of change, the pupil is an active participant and is the one who chooses, plans, acts, self-evaluates and reflects. That was precisely the goal of the project participants.