Taking Old-School Romania to Newschool

Energy. Liberty. Support. Trust. Emotion. Help. Cohesion. Personal development. Enrichment. Friendship. Experience. Communion. Satisfaction. Curiosity. Communication. Critical spirit. Magic.

The circle that Mihaela, our trainer, draws on the board soon becomes too small to encompass all the words that are coming from the teachers to describe the three day workshop they have been attending. It was a workshop where every participant was able to take away a new look at what it means to teach in the 21st century.

Romanian Education: A Quick Overview

For more than 50 years, during the reign of communism in Romania, there was a tradition of an authoritarian style of teaching. Oftentimes, this style was based in fear and in the absolute superiority of the teacher in the classroom, causing an irreconcilable gap between student and teacher. The rigid way of teaching, consisting of one-way (boring!) passing of information from the teacher to the student and not too much communication or care about the student needs, did not create a proper learning space and often made students highly demotivated.

"I'm leaving this workshop with the verb "I can" and I would like to pass this on to my students and my colleagues" said one of the participants. "I will put these days in my teacher's treasure chest and come back to them whenever I need inspiration and strength" resounded another. "I'm leaving feeling confident that I can change something in us, in the children.”

Collaboration is Key

Group work is very important during this workshop because as the teachers themselves confessed, they were not used to working together. And they were not used to encouraging their students to work together.

"I applied sometimes participative methods in class before, but now I understood why and how to do this" said another teacher.

"I liked the idea that we can learn by playing, too. Teamwork is so important!" "I understand that I don't have to do everything myself, as a teacher, in class, but let the students work together and help each other."

Mihaela explained that teaching does not have to be such a solitary activity. As teachers, instructing  alone in front of a class can sometimes become draining. It’s helpful to share experiences with other teachers, go to each other classes, learn best practices and look for support.

Walking the Talk

But changes do not come overnight. And certainly not after one workshop, to be realistic. The teachers need not only to learn a new style of teaching, but change an entire educational, family and personal pattern, which takes a lot of time and practice. Mihaela encourages the participants to keep on practicing every day, even when it seems it's not working, because, as the saying goes, "it has to get worse before it gets better".

During these three days of the workshop, the participants had an intense learning experience. It was not just receiving some information, but acting on them and experiencing firsthand how they are supposed to work in real life, in their classes. Equally important, the participants were given the time to reflect on their values and their behavior through different creative exercises..

One of the most intense parts of the workshop was when teachers had to address concerns about difficult students. Mihaela took full control of the conversation, and was able to guide it to a more positive place. The emotion in the room was tangible, as one teacher or another had their "A-HA" moment.

In the end, the idea that teachers must first be leaders was what was ingrained in all of the attendees. But a leader doesn't have to be the best, a leader needs to be able to bring out the best in their students. That is what it truly means to lead.

What Works Works

Two other trainers working in parallel with the teachers say, "It's really working".

The teachers were very enthusiastic at the end of the second day of the workshop:

"I didn't understand why I have to start with the end. But I realize it's never too late to learn something new. I felt like a student here, insecure at first, but then I gained trust that I can contribute to the common goal".

"Something I learned here is to trust my intuition more and put my creativity to work."

"At first I didn't understand how all these post-it and cut out images from magazines are going to help us, but then I saw that we really came to a great result. And I had so many ideas."

From Feedback to Feedforward

As they are approaching the end of the course, the moment of feedback comes. The Romanian teachers admit it's an issue for them. They are not used to giving or receiving feedback in a positive and constructive way. Maybe it's a cultural thing, says Mihaela, compared to Norway, where it's only natural that teachers go to each other's classes to learn best practices from each other, but mostly to give and receive feedback.

In one group, the principal of the school surprised everybody by taking the initiative to propose her colleagues to make a working group in their school too, like the one they had during the workshop, a united group, in which nobody's opinion is superior to the others', but it's focused on listening, feedback and working together.

Mihaela listens to each group and says that this is the best outcome she could hope for. She encourages all participants to take what they learned and experienced here and apply it to their endeavors going forward.  

Going Forward

Wrapping up this week-long session, diplomas are awarded, group hugs follow, some tears and "hora" - a traditional Romanian dance that consists of everyone holding hands and making a circle, which I believe is quite symbolic for the spirit of this workshop. A teacher says to Mihaela half- joking, “We would like to take you home.”

Guest editor Claudia Tanasescu, photographer and people`s enthusiast