Model Schools in the Spotlight: Primary School “Tsani Ginchev” in the town of Lyaskovets
An extraordinary school where all children are equal.
This statement sums up the philosophy of Primary School “Tsani Ginchev” in the town of Lyaskovets. The school is like a second home to 80 girls and boys who are developing their potential with the support of 20 teachers. They’ve spent years working on making the school as inclusive as possible, especially for children with special needs. The students have their regular classes, but they can also take advantage of a variety of clubs and extracurricular activities dedicated to their personal interests, development, and conflict solving skills.
Primary School “Tsani Ginchev” applied for Teach For Bulgaria’s program Model Schools in 2021. After successfully completing all stages of the selection process, the school was approved and joined the program’s second class of participants together with 26 other schools from villages, towns, and cities all over Bulgaria.
With care for every child
Model Schools is a two-year professional development program. The goal is for teachers to improve their leadership skills and master new teaching methods in order to be able to meet their students’ individual needs. Model Schools does not collect any fees from the participants – the training and mentorship they receive in the course of the two years is free of charge. The program has two integral parts: a course on instructional leadership and an elective course chosen by the school. The elective courses cover a variety of topics such as social and emotional learning, teaching Bulgarian as a second language, and STEM.
According to Ivan Peychev, deputy principal of Primary School “Tsani Ginchev”, Model Schools helps school leaders and teachers fulfill their mission more effectively. по-ефективно своята мисия.
“We were motivated to join the program because of all the positive feedback from the first class of participants. We are also motivated by the fact that we see similarities between our school philosophy and Teach For Bulgaria’s philosophy. Our common goal is to help every child develop their skills. The wellbeing of our students is of crucial importance to us – not academic results, but social skills. After all, we can all see that straight-A students are rarely equipped to deal with real life problems,” commented Ivan Peychev.
The main advantage that Model Schools provides is the focus on laying a strong foundation for the teachers and enabling them to build upon what they have learned and adapt it to the specific needs of their students, says Rumyana Bogdanova, principal of Primary School “Vasil Levski” in the town of Belene and one of the mentor in Model Schools.
“I shadow all training sessions and I can see how customized they are. Teachers have access to all resources and can benefit from the experience they gain in the program, but they channel their knowledge in a way that would be most appropriate for the specific needs of their school. The goal is not to copy-paste information to justify the program. On the contrary, it is result-oriented and meaningful. Everything we do is aimed at the students – we want to improve their results, wellbeing, and agency,” commented Rumyana Bogdanova, mentor of Primary School “Vasil Levski and two other schools from the program.
From theory to practice
The training of the second class of participants in Model Schools started in August of 2021. The teachers from Primary School “Tsani Ginchev” and their colleagues from the other schools in the program participated in a six-day preliminary training camp in Arbanasi. Because of the pandemic, all subsequent training sessions and meetings with the mentors have been online.
Currently a team of four teachers from the school are participating in training sessions. One of them is deputy principal Ivan Peychev. They have already started applying what they have learned in their everyday work. For example, they have managed to visualize the school’s core values and now there are posters with the core values at the entrance of the school and in every classroom. They have also created a mood meter, inspired by their training on how to build a positive school culture. Their goal is to improve students’ wellbeing and mental health.
“We made an educational poster with pictures of what all emotions look like and students find them very interesting. They can pick an emotion to share how they’re feeling and their teacher is expected to go through their choices and address any emotions of sadness. It’s impossible for a child to be adequate in class, if they’re not feeling well. We need to figure out what’s wrong and help them feel better,” commented Ivan Peychev and added that the mood meter was still being tested.
Besides the leadership team, four more teachers are participating in a training course on how to develop 21st-century skills in the classroom. The teachers work with primary school students and are currently working on creating a hotel for insects with them. The first-graders have to collect the insects, the second-graders are working on the design of the hotel, and the third-graders are making a presentation about the project.
According to Ivan Peychev, the program is not just a source of knowledge, but a prerequisite to have highly motivated and actively engaged teachers.
“I am very impressed that my colleagues took the risk to try project-based learning in order to develop students’ 21st-century skills. I can clearly see that they are motivated and it’s not just because they say they are, but because they actually are. I can see how this program stimulates teamwork as well.”
Rumyana Bogdanova, the mentor of the team, agrees:
“Primary School “Tsani Ginchev” is advancing quickly, they have a clear action plan. The idea is to establish a professional leadership learning community in order to initiate innovations in every classroom. The leadership team is doing an excellent job, despite all challenges and COVID. They say that the pandemic is motivating them to work even harder.”
Sharing and exchanging ideas
Ivan Peychev is adamant that his collaboration with the mentor is excellent.
“We have met before because we’ve both been involved in projects on inclusive education. Rumyana Bogdanova is our partner and we know we can count on her.”
Danilena Barneva, Bulgarian language and literature teacher at the same school, is also very happy with the mentor.
“Rumyana Bogdanova is a very positive person who supports us when we need it, but she can also be critical about our work which helps us get back on track.”
Rumyana is also inspired by the teachers she mentors because of their unique experience. For example, the teachers at Primary School “Tsani Ginchev” have a lot of experience working with special needs students.
Daniela Barneva, who has been a teacher for over 25 years, strongly recommends Model Schools to all teachers, principals, and deputy principals in the country.
“The application process is not complicated and once the program starts you’ll have access to many resources and you’ll be able to talk to many colleagues across the country. This is a wonderful opportunity to exchange best practices and talk about ways to improve our work, collaborate or start new projects. The program is also very well structured and the trainers are very competent.”