One of the main values Teach For Bulgaria lives by from the very start is “continuous learning”. We believe that it is essential for any educational organization which claims to work towards making Bulgaria a better place. This is why 10 years after Teach For Bulgaria was founded we’d like to look back and reflect on what we’ve learned. We’ve collected the “lessons learned” shared by the heads and managers of various teams in our organization and we are happy to present them to you in this text.
There is no growth without change and no change without growth
“If we want to keep serving the educational community and system, we need to be flexible and calibrate our approach and focus,” shares Trayan Trayanov, CEO of Teach For Bulgaria. We used to live with the fantasy that once we’ve passed Teach For Bulgaria’s pilot phase, we’d get into a comfortable routine. Everything would be the same year after year and the only difference would be related to the volume of our work, the reach of the organization: number of teachers and partner schools, students, etc.
But the truth is that we constantly have to change our approach because the current state of Bulgarian education and our understanding of the problem evolve. We are presented with new opportunities, we gradually realize that what we are currently doing may no longer be the case 3 or 5 years from now. The way we work may not be the same 3 or 5 years from now. Our mission and vision remains the same, but we’ll have to keep reinventing Teach For Bulgaria again and again in order to be as adequate as possible when it comes to meeting the needs of our education system.
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a recipe for failure. The way we learn from our mistakes is just as important as the way we celebrate our victories – small, medium, or large. “If we want to keep our motivation for the long journey ahead, it is essential that we don’t get lost in destructive self-criticism, but we should rather approach everything in a creative manner, especially in the context of the coveted systemic change,” reminds Anjela Deyanska, Head of Development and Fundraising at Teach For Bulgaria.
What helps us prepare for when things get tough or we need to find solutions and grow as a team is our growth mindset. Change is slow, it is often hard to see at a first glance, but beautiful things can happen with the right dose of perseverance. Even the smallest victory requires a lot of effort, drive, and persistence. “Good results come after lots of faith and patience,” says Ekaterina Yankova, Head of Human Resources at Teach For Bulgaria.
Educational inequality is not an accident
It is the result of action or inaction on a systemic level and it reflects social values. Positive change on systemic level, i.e. what we work for, requires collaboration, focus, progress tracking, adapting, perseverance. We cannot improve something, if we don’t measure it.
If we want to improve Bulgarian students’ results and the way they feel at school, we need to develop our personal self-awareness. The easiest thing would be to base everything on our personal subjective point of view. This is why quite often, consciously or not, we end up recreating what we already know, instead of changing our environment for the better. “Imagine what kind of education we’d have in Bulgaria, if instead of thinking “whatever, we also had to do that at school” we dreamed about what we would like our children to do at school, how we’d like them to feel, what we’d expect them to accomplish,” comments Anjela Deyanska, Head of Development and Fundraising at Teach For Bulgaria.
Perhaps, one of the most important lessons learned about systemic change is that if we want it to happen, “we have to find or create scalable solutions,” shares Petko Ivanov, Head of Technologies, Operations, and Marketing at Teach For Bulgaria.
Partnerships and the power of community
We have come to realize that our organizational sustainability depends on the people: the people in our team, in our programs, the ones who provide valuable advice and provoke us to think outside the box, and all people who support our mission with their resources. “Our supporters donate not just money, but also faith in our mission. Without it their support would not be sustainable and our work would be impossible,” highlights Anjela Deyanska.
Two (or more) heads are better than one. This is true both internally in our organization and externally in the education system as a whole. We believe that it is important to have more organizations working towards equal access to quality education so that we could join forces, exchange best practices and information. There isn’t one optimal solution to this problem which one single organization can provide. “This is why the strength of our community is rooted in the partnerships we build,” comments Neli Koleva, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Teach For Bulgaria.
People are the key
At the beginning, we thought that it was a matter of fine-tuning certain policies or that the decision-makers and public authorities simply do not know that there is educational inequality in Bulgaria and cannot imagine what the consequences could be if nothing is done about it. But we realized it was not a matter of inaccessible information. The most crucial factor are the people in these authorities and institutions. They should do their job with the conviction that every single child in Bulgaria deserves quality education. They should also commit themselves to working towards that goal in the long-term. “One key person at the right spot can have a huge impact on the lives of thousands of children,” adds Petko Ivanov.
We learned that it will take a really long time before we reach this critical mass of people who share the same vision and work towards the same goal through the prism of their respective professions and civic engagement. It will take a really long time to convince enough people in the righteousness of our vision, to find like-minded supporters in other organizations, to learn how to work together, to exchange best practices and information, to help our alumni figure out where they fit in the system… “Things don’t happen by organizing two conferences and urging people to get together and work on something. This process requires purposeful work, setting enough time for relationship-building, creating a sense of community,” adds Trayan Trayanov. 10 years later we can confidently say that the active educational community is growing slowly but surely. “Last but not least, we learned that children are wise and deserve to be heard, especially when it comes to their own education,” underlines Neli Koleva.
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