Building a Local Community of
Despite the fact that most teachers are overworked and underpaid in Hungary, they meet once a month voluntarily; the sense of belonging to a learning community gives them energy to become the change and helps prevent burnout.
2011 – Teachers take action for change, to be agents of change.
Seven people who had been living in the same city but had not all known each other earlier decided to meet to share experiences and ideas. They played games and talked about education and had such a fantastic time together that they made these meetings regular. Among the seven there many had several professions: teachers of English, History, and Mathematics, teacher educators, an economist, a tour guide, a journalist, a psychologist and a brain researcher. This group became our core team for what later became a professional community of practice. Despite the variety of professions, what connected us was that in the previous years we had all taken part in international Pestalozzi Programme of the Council of Europe workshops and courses as participants or facilitators. In 2013 we made our regular meetings open to other interested colleagues in Budapest.
We hoped to continue to learn from each other and also familiarize other colleagues with the background knowledge on and the practical implementation of education for democratic citizenship, intercultural competence development, and experiential and cooperative learning for inclusive schools.
How did we organize?
Our meetings are held on Friday afternoons, once every month, on a voluntary basis. We call them “Pestalozzi Péntek” in Hungarian, or Pestalozzi Fridays. These afternoons of collaborative learning have turned out to become a great success despite the fact that teachers are usually very tired by the end of the week. On the first few occasions a couple of years ago, we were surprised to see that we needed to book a larger room as there were 25 to 30 interested teachers who joined us. This was obviously a good sign. Since then, and for the fourth academic year now, the number of participants has always been between 40 and 55, and the great majority keep coming back to attend the sessions on a regular basis throughout the school year. Each year a different school offered to host us for free.
With such a large audience of interested colleagues, we started structuring the 3-hour Friday afternoon sessions around important themes and useful and adaptable activities. One of the most recent sessions addressed teachers’ competences to build democratic schools.
Here are two activities from last month’s session…
In the introduction we elicited and briefly talked about challenges at schools and in society at large such as lack of cooperation, poverty, fatigue, indifference, bullying, lack of tolerance, and even hate speech and discrimination. We asked participants to work in small groups and put on colored post-its what attitudes, skills and knowledge components they thought were necessary to overcome such challenges in the world and at schools. We then posted five broad categories that can be argued make up democratic competences:
- Diversity and Empathy
- Cooperation and Participation
- Human Rights and Equity
- Knowledge and Epistemology
- Self and Interaction
Next, the participants were asked to put their post-its into the categories where they thought those belonged. Although they had not been aware of the five categories practically all their post-its actually fit under the labels.
In a follow-up “speed-dating activity” we used “teacher I-statements” printed on slips of paper. Based on the “teacher I-statements” on the slips, participants had to explain to a partner in a few minutes what they already do as teachers in their own practice to promote tolerance, empathy, participation, cooperation, equity and so on. The lively debriefing discussion that followed showed us how much we all learned from each other and pointed us to what else we can do in our practice to promote empathy and cooperation in order to build a friendly atmosphere at our schools.
Despite the fact that most teachers are overworked and underpaid in Hungary, many attend the Pestalozzi Fridays regularly and they seem to show genuine interest in and respect for each other’s ideas and good practices, as well as courage and curiosity to question old habits and learn more about themselves as teachers and human beings. But most importantly, they seem to enjoy the opportunity to function as teachers and learners at the same time: sharing ideas, helping and being helped, listening and being listened to.
The sense of belonging to this community definitely gives us energy and helps prevent burnout.
The workshops are free of charge, and interested teachers from any type of school and representing any school subject are welcome to join. We all chip in to have some fruit and coffee or tea in the break between sessions. The facilitators work on a voluntary basis and we find that planning and running these Friday sessions is a valuable learning experience for us, too. In addition, the sense of belonging to this community definitely gives us energy and helps prevent burnout. Needless to say it is also heartwarming to see that so many teachers enjoy spending their Friday afternoons with us year after year.
A short video to show the atmosphere:
Ildikó Lázár, Co-ordinator, Hungary