Professional Learning Communities Transform Teachers “from Individual Missionaries into Collective Visionaries”

And Foster the Development of 21st Century Skills in the Classroom

These are two of the conclusions from the final conference of the EU project From Inclusive Education to Real Scale Transfer (FIERST). 300 teachers, principals, and education experts took part in the conference on June 22, 2020, entirely online – the guests conferred on zoom and the event was streamed on Facebook Live. 

Watch the opening and the first discussion panel here!

Not Only to Support Each Other, but Also to Learn More and More from Each Other  

Gergana Efremova, FIERST Project Manager for Teach For Bulgaria, opened the conference with a special message of appreciation for all 26 schools which participated in the project:

“They had the courage to go out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves to serve their students in the best way possible. I do believe that the newly established professional learning communities helped them find a way not only to support each other, but also to learn more and more from each other.”

The Chairperson of the Bulgarian Union of Teachers, Dr. Yanka Takeva, reminded the participants that “every education policy has one very important main purpose: to inspire motivation, teamwork, and leadership not only in the school staff, but also among the students in the classroom as well”. The Bulgarian Union of Teachers is an associated partner of the project.

Lazar Dodev, “Organization and Control” Senior Expert and FIERST Project Manager for the Ministry of Education and Science, also thanked the teachers and encouraged them to work with the same passion.

“We view professional learning communities as school structures – a series of professional meetings which happen regularly and give teachers the opportunity to discuss a variety of topics related to building students’ skills. Our concept of skill building is that it doesn’t happen before, after, or instead of teaching the content. On the contrary, skill building happens while students master the content. This is possible thanks to teachers’ purposeful work, diagnostic assessment, skill-building activities, and tracking students’ progress,” shared Kristina Nikolova, a FIERST trainer and Teach For Bulgaria’s “A New Way to Teaching” alumna. She moderated the first discussion panel focused on professional learning communities.  

The panelists were teachers and principals from the 18 schools which participated in the project during the 2019/2020 school year.

From Individual Missionaries to Collective Visioners

“The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other.” 

Amide Draguteva, teacher at “St. Kliment Ohridski” School in the village of Dreben, Blagoevgrad, quoted the famous American educator Robert John Meehan. She also shared that the most valuable takeaway for all teachers in Dreben was that by joining a professional learning community they learned how to receive feedback as a source of useful information, not personal criticism. They also managed to engage the parents because they discovered they had a common goal – happy and successful children. 

According to Iren Kalvacheva from Primary School “Geo Milev” in the village of Belozem, she and her colleagues were not very confident in the beginning, but they started sharing more openly with each other with time. As a result, they felt closer to each other than ever and created a shared mission and vision. Mrs. Kalvacheva challenged everyone at the conference to establish professional learning communities at their schools in order to transform “from individual missionaries to collective visionaries”. 

The principal of Primary School “Anton Strashimirov in the village of Bohot (Pleven), Temenuzhka Histova, pointed out that professional learning communities are only effective when they are built on trust. The teachers from Bohot realized how important it was for them to learn and grow because leading by example seemed to be the best way to motivate their students. The other panelists agreed with her and added that learning is most effective when the learner is an active participant in the process and has the opportunity to experience what they are being taught. 

Understandably so, remote learning definitely had an impact on the professional learning communities and put teachers’ adaptability and resourcefulness to the test. Lidia Bakalska from Secondary School “Lyuben Karavelov” in Plovdiv shared impressive details from their remote learning strategy which included a special website dedicated to the project where teachers uploaded all materials, resources, and general information, a FIERST group on Viber, FIERST Google Calendar, Google Meet, and shared folders on Google Drive. Fatme Uruk from Primary School “Peyo Kracholov Yavorov” in the village of Gyovren, Devin Municipality, shared that they had organized open math and history lessons with Google Classroom.

You can find best practices from the conference and more on

How to Build Skills of the Future

The participants in the project also focused on developing a 21st century skill of their choice in their classrooms during the school year. 


Which skill did each school choose, why, and what activities did teachers do in class? Find out in the interactive gallery of posters and presentations.

Not only did each school prepare a special presentation or a poster to illustrate their journey, but four of the schools also led interactive workshops during the conference. The workshops allowed guests to experience a variety of different teaching methods. Here are some details:

  • Workshop “Explorers of Emotions”, First Primary School “Georgi Bakalov”, Stara Zagora – the teachers presented some of the strategies they used in class to develop their students’ emotional intelligence. The guests had the opportunity to experience some of these strategies themselves and gained access to valuable ideas and interesting resources, proven to be effective in the development of emotional intelligence in class. 
  • Workshop “How to Develop Students’ Emotional Intelligence”, Primary School “Anton Strashimirov, Bohot – the participants in this workshop experienced several teaching techniques for emotional intelligence and discussed how these techniques could be adapted to different contexts. 
  • Workshop “Developing Students’ Teamwork Skills”, Secondary School “Hristo Botev”, Kubrat – the teachers from Kubrat presented a Cinquain writing activity which can develop students’ reading and writing skills, creativity and teamwork. 
  • Workshop “Professional Learning Communities and Remote Learning”, Secondary School “Lyuben Karavelov”, Plovdiv – the participants in this workshop were presented with some best practices they could implement in their schools. The team had also prepared different case studies which develop teachers’ analytical skills. 

All 18 schools which participated in the project agree that they would not have been able to grow so much, if it hadn’t been for the support they had received from the project trainers, the resources, and the opportunity to exchange best practices with their colleagues from the other schools. The project trainers are Teach For Bulgaria alumni. They all have teaching experience and expert knowledge acquired in a variety of educational institutions and organizations. 

Positive feedback from the inspired guests

You can find more information about 21st century skills, how to develop them in your classroom and many other resources at The website was created as a platform for the exchange of information and best practices from the FIERST project, but it will continue to grow and help as many teachers in Bulgaria as possible.

More about FIERST:

The goal of FIERST is to disseminate best practices for inclusive education through the development of 21-st century skills in the classroom and the establishment of professional learning communities at school. The partner organizations from Bulgaria are Teach For Bulgaria, the Ministry of Education and Science, and New Bulgarian University. The Bulgarian Union of Teachers is an associated partner.  

FIERST is a 3-year, Erasmus +, Key Action 3 project which is implemented in 5 European countries – Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia, the UK, and Sweden. Over 80 teachers from 8 schools participated in the first phase of FIERST last year. This year 18 schools from across Bulgaria took part in FIERST. They received training and professional support as they established school-level professional learning communities.

You can read more about the project here and here.

The support of the European Commission for this content is by all means not a form of approval of this content. This content reflects solely the opinion of the authors and the European Commission is in no way responsible for any application of this news article or for the information it contains.

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