HOW TO IMPROVE STUDENTS’ READING LITERACY, THE IMPORTANCE OF TEACHER TEAMWORK, AND A FEW MORE LESSONS LEARNED FROM SCHOOL

FIVE SCHOOLS IN SOFIA SHARED BEST PRACTICES AT AN EVENT CO-ORGANIZED BY THE REGIONAL MANAGEMENT OF EDUCATION AND TEACH FOR BULGARIA

How to improve students’ reading literacy, methods for lesson co-planning, helping special needs children feel included, and developing students’ creative potential – these were some of the best practices shared by representatives from five schools in Sofia at a forum in the beginning of February. It was organized by the Regional Management of Education in Sofia and Teach For Bulgaria. The goal was to give principals and teachers from different schools the opportunity to meet and exchange best practices in school leadership and teaching.
The forum “Best Practices at Our School” was opened by the head of the Regional Management of Education in the city of Sofia, Dr. Vanya Kastreva. She opened by saying that by joining our efforts we could achieve true social change. “The goal of this meeting is to start a conversation, provoke us to share from our experience and why not even to get us to set up inter-school lesson observations, so that we could all learn from each other,” shared Gergana Efremova, Institutional Partnerships Manager at Teach For Bulgaria.
You can find a summary of the best practices shared by the five schools below.
(снимка:) The forum was attended by principals and teachers from five schools in Sofia.

AN IMPROVEMENT IN THE READING LITERACY SKILLS OF STUDENTS AT 156 PRIMARY SCHOOL “VASIL LEVSKI” IN KREMIKOVTSI

The decrease in student motivation to learn and accomplish rigorous goals as well as the great number of students who failed their national standardized tests in Bulgarian language, forced the teachers and principal of 156 Primary School “Vasil Levski” in Kremikovtsi to focus on developing students’ reading literacy. The management of the school, teachers, some of whom Teach For Bulgaria participants, parents, and experts from the Center for Inclusive Education joined forces to provide students with more opportunities to practice their reading literacy skills.
Teachers synchronized their classes and included more extracurricular activities in their work. The students could learn strategies that helped them extract information from texts – a skill which could be useful not only in their Bulgarian classes, but also in math. Teachers also focused on helping children believe in their own abilities and getting parents to see their kids potential and support them in their studies.
They started seeing results soon enough – for the second year in a row, there were no students failing their Bulgarian language and literature standardized test. Meanwhile, the fifth-graders and seventh-graders improved their achievements, not only in terms of grades, but also in terms of their personal development goals. Some students participated in the “Reading Kangaroo” competition and got great results.

CO-PLANNING AND LESSON OBSERVATION AT 90 SECONDARY SCHOOL “GENERAL JOSÉ DE SAN MARTÍN”

For a few years now, the principal of 90 Secondary School “General José de San Martín”, Emilia Ivanova, and her team have been focusing on teacher professional development through teamwork, co-planning, and lesson observation. Thanks to their work on an Erasmus+ project and their collaboration with Teach For Bulgaria, they have had the opportunity to research best practices at several schools in the UK and draft an action plan to help them implement certain practices in 90 Secondary School. The proposed methodology was in alignment with the school’s vision shared by all teachers, parents, and students – to educate knowing, capable, and confident students, to support the work of innovative teachers and to let them be creative, and to collaborate with the community.
The team strives to improve teaching by organizing lesson co-planning workshops every Friday. The following week a teacher would observe a colleague’s class and give them feedback and the week after that they would switch. The goal is to help teachers understand that their colleagues observe their classes in order to support and not criticize them. It only took one term to get everyone on board and there have already been over 180 co-planned lessons and over 170 classroom observations.
As a result, teachers have gotten to know each other better, share more, test new methods, and work better as a team. “If we as teachers are not good at teamwork, children won’t be good at it, either,” Emilia Ivanova is convinced.

MAKING SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN FEEL INCLUDED AT 149 SECONDARY SCHOOL “IVAN HADZHIYSKI”
After students at 149 Secondary School “Ivan Hadziyski” started asking a lot of questions about their classmate with Down syndrome, the special education teacher and Teach For Bulgaria participant, Rada Peltekova, the child’s parent, class teacher, and the principal of the school initiated an action plan to help special needs children feel included and accepted at school.
The first step of the action plan, which brought together all students and teachers at 149 Secondary School, was to prepare a presentation and make a short video with information about Down syndrome. All special needs students at the school collected facts and myths about people with Down syndrome and decorated a “sun box” in which anyone who wanted to show their support for people with DS, could leave a drawing of a sun.
On March 21, World Down Syndrome Day, the special education teacher presented about Down syndrome and talked to students and parents about acceptance and tolerance. The students found 269 suns in support of people with DS.
“We realized how important it was to accept each other in order to make every child feel included and to build an environment in which they could develop their potential,” Rada Peltekova shared. She also added that her colleagues at school were thinking about implementing their action plan on a national level.

(снимка:) The forum was opened by the head of the Regional Management of Education in the city of Sofia, Dr. Vanya Kastreva (to the right)

DEVELOPING STUDENTS’ CREATIVE POTENTIAL AT 144 SECONDARY SCHOOL “NARODNI BUDITELI”

144 Secondary School released its first ebook of 144 stories. The book was initiated by the Bulgarian language and literature teacher Angelina Todorova who was testing innovative methods to teach literature to her middle school students. Her goal was to provoke her students to read, comment, and interpret fiction which would help them develop their creative potential.
Angelina’s students picked abstracts from Michael Ende’s “The Neverending Story” which they had to complete themselves. As an extracurricular activity they planned, titled and wrote stories which they then had to edit digitally and add illustrations. The book is available on the school’s website.

“PAY IT FORWARD” – KNOWLEDGE AND KEY SKILLS AT 106 PRIMARY SCHOOL “GREGORY ZEMBLAK”
The history and geography teacher at 106 Primary School “Gregory Zemblak” and Teach For Bulgaria alum, Rosen Bogomilov, had ambitious goals for his seventh-graders. Over the course of the school year, they had to improve their results at the national standardized tests (national external assessment). They had to do that by developing key skills – reading, scientific and mathematical literacy, motivation to learn and grow. The big goal was for everyone to continue their education in high school. In addition to all of that, Rosen wanted his students to attain a sense of ownership and agency not only for their own learning, but for everyone else’s as well.
Rosen won a project with the Trust for Social Achievement which allowed him to provide more extracurricular activities to his seventh-graders. Every day of extracurriculars had a different focus – intellect building (reading, mathematical, or scientific literacy and learning skills) or soft skills and career orientation (social and interpersonal skills, digital literacy, media and information literacy, and civic literacy). The extracurricular activities involved case studies, role plays, presentations, and reading literacy tests. On of the days students had the opportunity to plan a workshop for their classmates. The project also made it possible for students to meet with professionals from various fields who could inspire the seventh-graders to complete their education and pursue a career.