A Story about a Teacher or the Importance of Inviting Successful Role Models in Class (Even Virtually)

ролеви модел в училище

Yavor Hadzhiev is an English teacher in the town of Dolna Banya and a participant in Teach For Bulgaria’s program “A New Way to Teaching”. Last year in the beginning of the pandemic and at the start of the transition from traditional to online teaching, Yavor managed to organize a virtual meeting with US-based Bulgarian entrepreneur Victor Penev for his students. Hos goal was to motivate them to be more diligent and committed to pursuing their goals. We’d like to share more about this adventure from Yavor’s perspective: how he came up with this idea, what it took to organize the meeting, and what the result was. 

If you’d like to share your experience with students as a guest role model in their classroom (virtually or in person), reach out to us at role_models@zaednovchas.bg.

The concept of having role models in the classroom

“The expectations that my students have about themselves, their parents’ expectations and the expectations of the local community in general are often very low. My hope in the beginning of the school year (editor’s note: 2019/2020) was that connecting my students with different role models – successful professionals with diverse backgrounds – would help them reconsider their aspirations and aim higher. I believe that such meetings have the potential to broaden my students’ horizons, so that they could see that life actually extends much further than the city limits of Dolna Banya,” shares Yavor.

Yavor Hadzhiev

However, back in March of 2020 when everyone had to transition from traditional to online learning, Yavor was a little discouraged and assumed that he wouldn’t be able to proceed with the meetings he had scheduled.

“I thought that such meetings would only be useful if they were face to face, in person. I thought that the physical presence in the classroom was going to leave deeper and longer-lasting impressions on the young minds of my students. It turns out that I was wrong…”

By the end of the school year, when Teach For Bulgaria provided an opportunity for a virtual meeting with Victor Penev, Yavor Hadzhiev had already met his students with many professionals – programmers, dancers, actors, financiers, representatives from Khan Academy Bulgaria, etc. Some of these meetings were in the form of lectures, while others were organized as workshops which allowed Yavor’s students to ask questions and try specific project activities related to the professions of the guests. 

“These meetings helped me realize that things can happen remotely and still be interesting for my students,” shares Yavor.

The meeting with Victor Penev came right on time because it allowed Yavor to place the focus on the importance of perseverance and investing in one’s personal development and education in order to succeed anywhere in the world – in Bulgaria or in the US alike. 

Victor has supported Teach For Bulgaria for a long time, he’s an entrepreneur with years of experience in the technological sector and founder of Edamam – a business which helps people eat healthier. Victor is also one of the founders on Net Info which is probably best known among Bulgarian students for products like abv.bg and vbox7.

The new challenge

Stanislava Stefanova

Yavor, however, stumbled upon two challenges while trying to set up the “transatlantic” meeting with Victor. Very few of his students were able to participate and some of them had many technical difficulties during the previous virtual meetings. 

He decided to talk about these challenges with the people at Teach For Bulgaria who provide training and professional support and with his fellow program participants. This led to the realization that he could just team up with another teacher for the meeting. At the time, Stanislava Stefanova from the class of 2018-2020 of “A New Way to Teaching” still worked at Secondary School “St. Cyril and St. Methodius” in the village of Kamen in Strazhitsa municipality. She also wanted to inspire her students by inviting a successful virtual guest to meet and talk to them. So Yavor found both a solution and a new partner who could help him with the logistics and preparation for the meeting with Victor. 

“The idea that students from two different schools in two different parts of Bulgaria could participate in one online event with Victor who lived in the States was very exciting. It seemed like our students would have a one-of-a-kind experience,” the two teachers share.

Organizing a virtual meeting with Victor

Besides a special Facebook group the teachers also created an online package in order to promote the event and motivate more students to join

Yavor and Stanislava created a special Facebook group in an effort to get more students to participate. This would also allow them to record the meeting and have the recording in the group, so that even those who weren’t able to attend live could watch the video later. According to Yavor social media platforms like Facebook were not suitable for teaching and learning, but worked well for one-time events like the meeting with Victor.

The meeting took place on June 26, 2020, and the teachers decided not to have a specific structure for it. The students were able to introduce themselves by sharing a little about their dreams and goals. Then Victor told them about his academic and professional experience. He also shared more about his current project – Edamam. Then everyone was free to ask questions and talk about important topics related to education and career orientation.

An open-ended meeting

“Our guest gave us some good arguments about the value of education, he supported those arguments with examples from his own life which was exceptionally valuable in this situation”, adds Yavor.

“Two of his arguments were that education can open many doors and how important it is to set our goals early on for guidance. Victor helped our students not just with advice, but he also coached them to map out an action plan to achieve their dreams and goals. Everyone left the meeting more inspired and confident. They also had a clearer understanding of the important role that education plays in their lives. Some of the students were very active during the meeting and even shared a little bit of their own advice with their peers which I found inspiring.”

Everyone had a big smile on their face by the end of the meeting. As Victor Penev later shared with Teach For Bulgaria, “I believe that education is fundamental for the prosperity of Bulgarian society. Teach For Bulgaria is an organization which does the most about this and that’s why I support you.”

As far as the students are concerned, by the end of the school year they had a clearer vision for their goals and felt a little more inspired thanks to the virtual visits organized by Yavor. We’ll have to wait and see if they’ll manage to pursue their dreams with confidence and perseverance.

You can make such meetings possible for more students! Make a donation and support our work towards developing teachers and school staff across the country!

If you want to organize an inspiring event for your students or if you are a successful professional who wants to be a virtual guest in someone’s classroom, reach out to us at role_models@zaednovchas.bg.

Expect more information about a special platform which can help teachers and role models match! We have been developing this platform in collaboration with Vratsa Software and Emilian Kadiyski from the first class of Teach For Bulgaria’s “A New Way to Teaching”. 

It will make it easier for teachers, professionals, and businesses to match, interact, and collaborate in the name of every student’s success. The platform will be available to all Bulgarian teachers for free.  

You can find more stories about similar meetings of students with professionals here.

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