Teach For Bulgaria alumna and teacher at Primary School “Hristo Botev” in the village of Brestnitsa, Bilyana Asenovska, organized an innovative team building event for parents, teachers, and students in the beginning of May, 2018.
On Saturday, May 12, Bilyana gathered parents, students, teachers, and supporters at one of the most important places for the local Roma community in Bretsnitsa – the lawn in their neighborhood. Bilyana and her team challenged their guests with various activities and tasks which required teamwork, in order to help them build trust and find common ground in the name of a unifying goal – better education for the children in the community. One of the main goals of the event was to get parents involved in their children’s education and future development. The initiative is part of Bilyana Asenovska’s “Gramotko” project which is supported by the Trust for Social Achievement and Teach For Bulgaria. “Gramotko” aims at finding solutions to the illiteracy problem in the region which drives many children to drop out of school.
Bilyana shared that choosing a familiar place where the local community could feel comfortable was key for the success and positive atmosphere of the event. The guests had the chance to participate in various activities – both familiar and interesting to them. Teachers, parents, and students cooked soup together, wove rugs from old rags, and made furniture from pallets. The students also made a model of their neighborhood out of paper and traced their way from home to school on it. Everyone left their trace on the model and discussed the obstacles and opportunities along the way.
Share = learn
All guests managed to share and talk freely as supporters united by the care for children. The crafts in the first part of the event made all participants feel comfortable and served as the basis for the important conversation about what prevents children in the community to complete their education and what might be the possible solution. The team of the event supported parents and students in their search for answers by helping them discuss in mixed groups and by providing questions for guidance. The questions took parents back to their own experience at school, the challenges they faced, so they discussed how to support their children in achieving more. Students discussed questions related to their current difficulties at school, their favorite activities, and the changes they could make on their own, in order to be more successful.
Parents and children added beads to bracelets every time they discovered they shared a similar experience. This served as a metaphor for their shared experience and the bracelets would be a reminder for what they shared in the discussion.
“What we most definitely accomplished with this event was to show parents and children that we are there for them and that we want to do things together, we really care about their children and their future. This made them very happy. They also realized that we did not just come to play, cook, and eat together, but to talk about the importance of education. My lesson learned was that if there was a place in the neighborhood where I could gather children and teach them, it would significantly improve their attendance and engagement”, Bilyana shared after the event.
The three most important steps that Bilyana recommends you to follow, in case you decide to organize a similar event:
Planning and promotion
Before organizing the event, Bilyana and her colleagues visited the Roma neighborhood twice to talk to people and tell them more about the event they were planning. Bilyana recommends visiting the place at least once or twice and talking to as many people as possible in private. Standard event promotion does not work in such communities which is why talking to people in person and convincing every single parent of the significance of the event is very important.
In addition to planning and promotion, Bilyana points out how important it is for the people in the community to know and trust you when you go to talk to them. It would help to start building relationships with them both at school and beyond the classroom. People need to know that you genuinely care about their children.
Clear message and genuine concern
Bilyana highlights how crucial it is to pay attention to the message you want to convey and make sure you think about it well in advance. At the same time your attitude towards these people, their culture, environment, experience, and so on, matters as well. “What you say without words” – respect, understanding, acceptance – this also helps you build the team to support the organization of the event.
Besides these three tips, Bilyana also shared how important it was to plan the logistics of the event – making sure there were enough people to help during the workshops or with transportation, materials, planning attendance, etc. You should also consider the space you have chosen – does it provide enough shade, is it appropriate for the workshops you have planned, and last but not least, will you be able to motivate enough people from the community to participate.
Bilyana was greatly supported by her colleagues at Primary School “Hristo Botev” and by the other Teach For Bulgaria teachers and alumni who worked in the Lovech region. The event was also made possible with the support of many people and businesses such as the Principal of Primary School “Hristo Botev”, Totka Danova, the Mayor of the village of Brestnitsa, Pencho Lalev, Zornitsa Ragyova, Titan Zlatna Panega Cement AD, and many others.
Bilyana Asenovska is a Teach For Bulgaria alumna who continued teaching for a third year at the school in Brestnitsa after she completed the two-year program for leadership and professional development. She launched her project “Gramotko” at the beginning of 2017/2018 school year. The event in the neighborhood in Brestnitsa was part of her project. The goal of the initiative is to support all students in the village who have significant literacy gaps by providing additional reading, writing, and numerical literacy activities at the weekends during the school year and implementing less traditional methods of teaching.
You can find more pictures from the event here:
Photographer – Hristo Hristov, math teacher in the village of Brestnitsa and Teach For Bulgaria participant