Best Practices: 90 Secondary School in the neighborhood of Lyulin in Sofia (link in Bulgarian) and its smooth, organized transition to remote learning over just one weekend seen through the perspective of the geography teacher Gergana Cholakova (video in Bulgarian).
The Phone Call
Friday afternoon, March 13, 2020. All students in Sofia are home due to a late seasonal flu epidemic. Gergana Cholakova, geography teacher at 90 Secondary School in Sofia and participant in Teach For Bulgaria’s program A New Way to Teaching, receives a phone call from the principal. The principal, Emilia Ivanova (link in Bulgarian), has just discovered that starting Monday, March 16, all school in Bulgaria must start teaching online.
The Action Plan
The action plan is short and simple. Geri and a few of her colleagues are instructed to research the functionality of Google Classroom (link in Bulgarian) because the school already has an account. After a short research Geri and her colleagues record 5-minute videos with instructions for the entire school staff. They organize a Saturday training for all teachers. On Sunday, class teachers have the responsibility to call all families, explain the transition to online teaching, and send instructions on how to sign in and work with the platform.
“There are many instructional videos on how to work with Google Classroom in Bulgarian now, but back on March 13, there was hardly anything! That’s why we had to improvise and record short videos for our colleagues. On the other hand, our principal wanted the instructional videos to be specific to our school, so in the end, everything turned out great,” Gergana shares.
The New Normal
On Monday, March 16, classes follow their regular schedule, but are executed entirely online. Geri shares that all of her colleagues at school use Google Classroom and are learning very fast. They help and support each other whenever they encounter technical difficulties. The fact that the entire school uses one platform helps teachers, parents, and students adjust much faster to the new normal. The school staff also starts a mentorship program in the form of a series of online workshops dedicated to remote learning and in support of any teacher who has technical difficulties. Staff meetings are also online. During the first week of online teaching there are three staff meetings just to make sure that every issue is raised, there are concrete next steps for every process, and every teachers feels supported.
Remote learning as a gateway to new opportunities in the classroom
To Geri, who teaches geography and economics to students from 5th to 12th grade, the transition to remote learning is a wonderful opportunity for a transition to project-based learning, more practical activities, research projects, guest speakers in the virtual classroom, and authentic assessment.
Her entrepreneurship module, for example, has transformed into the drafting of an actual business plan. Asya Stancheva from Step for Bulgaria leads a workshop on how to write a resume for Geri’s older students. The annual content revision for 12th grade is executed in the form of a series of research projects which involve demographic, economic, and statistical studies. The students explore questions such as “Why are there more women than men in X region of Bulgaria?” and use a variety of sources to get information – the website of the Bulgarian National Statistical Institute and many others.
Geri uses different gamification methods (link in Bulgarian) for her middle school students which include Kahoot! challenges and videos about the geographical zones of Africa.
She appreciates the opportunity to work with just one platform with her colleagues and students. According to her, the more platforms and applications students have to learn how to work on, the more confusing the process gets for them and their families.
Access to online education for every child
There are 500 students at 90 Secondary School. Over 410 of them participate in the online classes every day. Some students, however, do not have devices and cannot join any online classes. They get handouts and resources from their class teachers and classmates. The school has joined a donation campaign organized by the Center for Interethnic Dialog and Tolerance “Amalipe” and supported by Teach For Bulgaria. As of today, 10 computers have been donated to students from 90 Secondary School which allows them to participate in their online classes.
Teachers communicate with parents daily and their feedback is very positive. They tell Geri that the process of remote learning has given them much needed transparency – they understand what teachers do for their children much clearer now and can see how each class goes.
90 Secondary School is one of our first partners. The school has hosted Teach For Bulgaria’s annual Summer Academy (link in Bulgarian) since 2013. Over 10 Teach For Bulgaria teachers have taught there and many of them have stayed after our two-year program. The school has also participated in “From Vision to Results” – a project by Teach For Bulgaria and Sofia Municipality for the 2018/2019 school year. “From Vision to Results” made it possible for 4 schools in Sofia to receive professional support and improve their learning environment and students’ results.