For the past year, we have been fortunate to have two Spanish sisters working in the agile learning space at St Monica’s Primary, North Parramatta. It’s been a great cross-cultural experience for all involved. They say the children are helping to correct their English!
In Spain, Sr Maria and Sr Teresa were the principals of two progressive K-12 Catholic schools in Barcelona. Their congregation is dedicated to the education of children in Spain and abroad. Youth unemployment in Spain is among the highest in Europe – a staggering 54.9%. The Sisters recognise that they have to educate their students to be global citizens. Many of their students will need to move to other European countries or further abroad to obtain meaningful work. Such is the reality of life in Spain today.
What impressed me was that every single teacher is proficient in using technology. As a congregation of 9 schools and a university, they developed a model eight years ago whereby every school has a small technology team that coordinates learning for teachers either online or face to face. As teachers become ‘expert’, they share their expertise within and across schools. The Sisters accept that students will always know more about technology but to ask a student for help shows a “humbleness that teachers are also in a continual process of learning.”
As school leaders, they see their role as primarily helping others to flourish. They believe that knowing your staff well leads to building greater levels of trust and transparency. Sr Teresa says that teachers need to feel at home just as much as students when they come to school. Teachers not only model collaboration but they model what is to be a learner. The question they ask themselves continually is ‘how can we do this better?” They are not afraid to look outside their communities or country for inspiration or ideas. They’ve had educators from Finland and Reggio Emilia visit their schools to share ideas and practice.
Their mission (like Sir Ken Robinson) is to make schools places where creativity flourishes. They admitted that not every child can change everything but some children can change somethings for the better. Their staff see this as a great achievement and testament to the value of education in modern society.
In Spain they work across K-12 because it enables them to have a deep understanding of their students and the learning environment. In a week, each school leader in their system spends approximately 20 hours teaching across primary and secondary. After school, teachers and leaders meet to plan and learn together. It is a continuous cycle of learning and improvement.
They have been very impressed with the standard of education here and the support of our state and federal government. The Spanish government has cut education funding, which is never the solution. Despite this, teaching is a popular vocation for young people. They see good teachers as Spain’s great hope.
I asked each what they were most proud of as school leaders. Both agreed that it was the quality of the relationships with students, with teachers and with parents. They told me that students in their final year of high school don’t want to leave and when they do, they come back regularly to visit.
This reminds me of Maria Montessori’s wonderful quote that teaching is ‘the great art of companionship’.