Tuesday, October 14, 2008

From Timidity to Boldness

Mag. Gabrijela Hauptman, the headmaster of Primary school Litija, is aware of the importance of the whole concept, and also understands the strengths of individuals, the strengths of bonding and networking. She systematically encourages active relationship between parents, pupils, teachers and local community. She is a person, who creates the conditions, where children’s timidity can be transformed into boldness, into creativity and open dialogue. This is an inspiring story of a school that found an effective formula for success and happiness.

VB: Who is Gabrijela Hauptman?
She is a person of discipline and order. Her actions are clear, determined and sometimes severe. But still, in her eyes you can see a harmonious interweave of discipline, love, devotion and wisdom of a crone. When you see her eyes looking into the distance you can see that she sees beyond the immediacy of the moment. That is when you can experience her magic of the manifestation of her visions. She often stresses: " I operate within my mission. As a manager and a leader I try to emphasize and exercises values that I believe, lead to prosperity and progress.”

Miss Hauptmann manages a primary school of 500 pupils, that includes youngsters with various disabilities, physical, and mental, and also with a teaching staff off about 100. Her active approach is systematically encouraging development of active relationships with, and between all the key participants: pupils, teachers, parents, experts and local community.

VB: What is the mission of the school?
GH: The development of open environment and stimulating work conditions for all the participants, based on respect, mutual cooperation and motivation with the best possible development of potential and self respect for every individual.

VB: You have stressed the importance of values, especially a deep respect for every individual. How do you develop values in school?
GH: We work with pupils in the main school as well as within the areas of the special needs program.

The key values of our school are captured in so called Golden Rules, which are a part of the education plan. These are: respect for all people, good mutual relations, mutual help, tolerance, nonviolence, attention, diligence, knowledge, respect for rules, interweaving.

VB: Can you point out an example of interweaving?
GH: At our school, art and the academic work walk together. This is exemplified in numerous activities: vocal group, composed of pupils and teachers, a teachers` choir, composed of teachers of the school, parents and other members of community, art group for adults, in which teachers as well as other members of community are included, active participation of pupils presenting and defending their ideas in our school parliament, in school projects and more.

VB: You can not develop that kind of a relationship over night, can you?
GH: Of course not, we have been developing the value system systematically for about 15 years and are finally becoming “of age” in way of collaborating. Because this kind of initiative may not be a common one, we encourage pupils that, when they continue their education and life journeys, they continue their experiences, cognitions and values to their new communities and into new educational environments.

VB: How do you plan your programs?
GH: The main vision for planning is our manifesto "Primary school Litija - sport and cultural center", that enables pupils to gain access to top-level achievements, excellent knowledge, rich culture, pleasant atmosphere and the right conditions for personal development for every pupil." However, our new direction is to become a life-learning center, where every pupil achieves their maximum development in his/her field of interest. To be more precise, by implementing our new program, we give a huge emphasis to individual interaction with children, encouraging their strengths and development. We work in teams using the power of networks within a specific subject area as well as on the level of a school as a whole. The proof of our successes are the results of our children in high school, and the comments of employees, and even of children that come back to our school and again include themselves into our activities.

Visible achievements of the school:
  • Winners of the Slovenian competition “Europe in school”;
  • 10 golden awards in knowledge on the state level;
  • Yearly top-state team in basketball;
  • State award for school theatre;
  • Over 90% of children at least in one of the interest activities, that are more or less free for pupils;
  • 65% of children in more than 2 interest activities;
  • 80% of children captures the reading badge yearly.
VB: You are known for the program for talented students. Could you tell us something more about it?
GH: For the systematic work with talented students I have hired a psychologist, who leads work in the 1st and 2nd phase of their development, whereas in 3rd phase a pedagogue leads the work. We try hard to follow our commitment that ensures no student should be overlooked. For every identified talented student we make an individual plan, which is co-formed by parents, psychologists, pedagogues and teachers. In the 1st triad (1st, 2nd and 3rd phase) we observe all the students. We include them into activities and keep yearly records of them. Some pupils are than identified, to attend workshops for the talented. We have also started to conduct workshops, for the parents of talented students. This part we conclude with the end-of-the-year trip, where parents also participate. The key emphasis for the 3rd triad (6th to 9th grade) is on including pupils into all kind of competitions.

VB: As you have already mentioned, teachers play a key role in the success of the school. How do you motivate them?
GH: The first important step is made in the process of employment. I look for different type of people. People with diverse life experiences, who enjoy their work and who can, beside expert knowledge, bring also some extra knowledge and expertise for additional development of interest activities. I take my time with each of them; I have started with yearly discussions, I visit them personally at hospitalizations. We talk at length about the value and content of their work. We also enable their own education, regarding personal and expert development.

VB: You also invest a lot into the relationship with parents and local community. What are your experiences?
GH: An important contact with parents is our "School for parents". Among social meetings (picnics, different appearances and meeting actions) and regular expert meetings at school (5 times per year) we use also public media as an educational channel, for example local TV. About 1000 people gather at the traditional end of the school party. An important part of a good relationship with parents is also regular surveys about satisfaction, analysis of their feedback and constant program improvement based on the results.

VB: What about local communities?
GH: We try to be included in the beat of the heart of the local community as actively as possible. I work a lot on adjustment of our programs with The Center for Development Litija, Chamber of trade, local high school, local media and local companies. Above all, we participate at all local events and happenings. I motivate experts, employed at our school to take action based on their expertise also on a local level, e.g., the English teachers translated promotional leaflet for the neighboring community, on parental appointments we invite external experts, professors of the Subsidiary with special needs programs and the rest of the experts run holiday workshops with handicapped grown-ups (association Symbiosis). We cooperate with the local Youth Center, e.g., visit of the 9th grade pupils, a part of pupils and teachers artistic performance, our pupils and staff are regularly included in all kind of performances at community level.

VB: Everything you describe so far is an excellent basis for the development of an innovative environment. Is innovation among teachers and among students conscious or is it spontaneous?
GH: We try to develop it consciously. We point out all the time that we are different. Together with teachers we try to upgrade the required programs and directions and exceed them with optimal support of all talents we have. We are proud of our supplementary program where work is focused on innovation as a value. We work a lot in mixed teams with professors of different profiles. That is how we enable our children to achieve a wider and more holistic insight into themes and working areas we cover with our activities.

I encourage teachers and other co-workers to develop their basic field of work as well the additional school activities they cover. It is recommended that they continue their formal studies and go work to achieve higher qualification.

VB: You are the first school in Slovenia that has opened the door to InJo program (innovation journalism) for primary schools which has started three years ago as part of the "Litija, innovative local community" Project. What made you decide to do so?
GH: The program is very appealing to us. It is executed well and answers to our true needs. Weak point of the schools is communication. Here, InJo gave us a helping hand. Through out the program we learnt how to observe the environment, which are the good stories, how they happen. InJo has shown us that children need to be encouraged to be open, connected and daring. As a consequence I notice improvements in our communication techniques, and skills. What is especially noticeable is our relationship with the (local) media. We have a chance to remodel potentials from timidity to boldness with kindness. Children have gained self-esteem and understanding of the space and time they live in.

Forms of internal communication in the school: Checks of efficiency program execution, yearly conversations, morning briefings with assistants, weekly staff meetings and twice weekly general meetings, weekly meeting with the head teachers of all programs, yearly team planning (we gather ideas throughout the year), theme circular letters for employees, monthly meeting of the teachers` choir, weekly “open door day”, a mail box for each teacher, written (electronic) communication between 08:00 am in 12:30pm, while the declared “peace in school” is in progress and we have undisturbed time for work.

VB: What would be your message to Slovenian managers?
GH: We are the first phase in the process of development of knowledge, behavior and skills of each individual, e.g., the future employee. It would be useful, if we cooperated more and better with future employers. I would like to use this opportunity to launch an initiative for an organized meeting of business managers and managers in education and training to exchange ideas on good practices, techniques, tools, and development initiatives.

VB: What is your message to the wider community?
GH: The most important thing, especially when you are a leader, is the heart. If you work sincerely, success is inevitable. The reason for the great successes of Slovenia as a new state is the development of inner motivation. Slovenian schools are, in comparison to foreign ones, smaller. We all know each other, therefore it is easier for us to cooperate and we also consult faster and introduce changes more swiftly.

VB: Being small can therefore be an advantage, too?
GH: Certainly.

Yet another story that opened the door to recipes of success. Behind the pragmatic models, structures and diagrams there is an immense source of creativity, a desire to develop, to progress and act in an integrated way. This is another proof of the importance of the need to search for good in ourselves, our partners and members of our communities. If we only had more opportunities to listen to ourselves, to genuinely connect. That would strengthen our social capital even more. Every part counts. Perhaps the initiative towards stronger horizontal networking of all actors of (innovative) space will inspire you as well. Maybe you will respond. Walk in peace.

In the name of Vibacom team.
Violeta Bulc

More we are connected, more we are free.

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