Veronica has been giving lessons for more than ten years at Los Albares School, the Spanish NEMESIS pilot school. An experience that has served her as a fuze for being the actual coordinator of the Social Innovation project.
We recently had a chance to (virtually) sit down and talk about her experience with the project. One of main task of the school should be, according to her, is to change with the times, because “a school that does not innovate is a school that stagnates”.
Q: At first you were not very convinced with NEMESIS but surprisingly, you have ended up being the coordinator of the project.
In one of the cloisters, we were told about the idea of getting involved in a project called NEMESIS. At that moment I decided not to get involved, I obviously was not against the idea that the project could be carried out in the center but I didn’t collaborate because I was involved in another project.
Everything changed two years ago when I began to teach at the primary stage in addition to still teaching at kindergarten. I still did not get involved in the project, I carried out my own projects, my own ideas… Then Ana, the headteacher, gradually started telling me that what I was doing matched very well with the «spirit» NEMESIS. I was implementing NEMESIS in an unintentional way.
Nonetheless, I kept telling her that I was not clear about NEMESIS. During the last year, I carried out my own ideas and my projects with the students. The school staff asked me to be the coordinator. I reminded them of my decision of not being part of it, however, their response was: «you are unconsciously carrying out NEMESIS objectives». After this, I could not say no, so I accepted and since then I have been doing everything possible so that NEMESIS reaches everybody in the clearest possible way.
Q: What have been the changes you have seen in the students and in the school that made you change your mind?
The main change that I observe in the students is that they feel that the school is theirs, something that they build, improve, change, that takes them into account. It is not a cold place where they sit for hours to listen to a master class, and at the sound of a siren they go home and the next day they do the same thing again. It is a changing place, as they are themselves. The school evolves with them.
Q: Could you describe what your weekly meetings with NEMESIS are like, and how do they fit into the project itself?
Every Wednesday there is a recessed meeting attended by representatives (they must be of both sexes to promote gender equality) from each class. In these meetings, they explain how their project is going, what kind of help they need. The student representatives are responsible for transmitting the information of these meetings to the rest of their classmates. The pupils go to these meetings with a briefcase where they collect all the information about their project and with a tablet as a support tool. With the tablet, they can record the meetings and take all the photos necessary to use all this audiovisual material as support in their subsequent explanation in the classroom.
In addition to this, on Tuesday afternoons the COLAB takes place, where pupils, teachers, and parents come together, thus involving the whole educational community. On these afternoons it is the sixth form students who coordinate and organize the work to be done, once again instilling in their responsibility and confidence.
In these meetings, we observe the empathy that the pupils have, their capacity to respect the opinions of others, the ease with which they are able to offer their help, and the development of the ability to ask for it. These aspects that sometimes are not so obvious in traditional evaluations are clearly seen in these meetings and that’s when you realize that it’s worth it. Because these are values that need to be developed and reinforced from an early age in order to create empowered citizens.
After your experience, what is Educational Social Innovation for you? Do you think there is part of this philosophy that should be applied to how education is approached in Spain? Why?
Firstly, it must be said that society and education go hand in hand. We are in a changing society and education should not be left behind. A school that does not innovate is a school that stagnates and misses opportunities that enrich its students.
When I speak of innovation I do not refer to working with tablets as in recent years is happening, for example. Innovating means changing aspects of the system, our way of teaching, of «teaching the class» as it is commonly said in Spain.
Since I was a student until now, obviously things have changed, but the essence of education is mostly the same: the teacher is the one who exercises leadership in the classroom. It is of no use that we innovate in technologies, in state-of-the-art materials, innovative tools, and techniques when the child is a mere recipient of information.
Giving them prominence, the necessary tools to create, transform, investigate … that’s when we are innovating. And it is not easy at all because removing or changing the slab that we teachers carry that we are responsible for student learning is difficult. When they give you the title of teacher it does not go in a small letter, you are the one who teaches and only you. And it is time to change this.
The student must take a more active role in education, we must let them create, create their own learning, and the motivation comes from being able to create. Motivation is everything in teaching.
Of course, we must not forget that school is not the only place for meeting and learning, hence the importance of society, and how closely society and school are linked as I said before.
One of the basic principles of NEMESIS is that children are the true protagonists of their projects, their opinion counts just like that of an adult. This approach might perhaps sound utopian to some people, what would you say to them?
As I previously said, the student must one more component of the educational system. I won’t say that they are de main characters, but that we are the same. We are not in a class system. We listen, we try to help solve problems that arise together, without further ado.
Their projects reflect their interests, their dreams, their motivations, and in view of this, I believe that a teacher can do nothing but continue to motivate them and let them create.
We are a team in which we all have an important role. We must remove the idea that the teacher prepares the way for the student, flattening it and removing the stones that are found along the way, but we must prepare the student for the way, and the best way to do it is by being equal; so that they see that the mistakes and the achievements we achieve are the same.
I once saw an interview with Begoña Ibarrola (psychologist and writer) that said «Emotions are the guardians of learning because they are responsible for memory.» She mentions that we only remember what is learned with emotion; cognition and emotion are two sides of the same coin. Curiosity allows the brain to expand and allows learning and that what NEMESIS forces, the curiosity that students have to improve society.
Another is self-confidence, which allows us to challenge ourselves and this is what we do, that we give to the students opportunities: we trust them, hence the importance we give in NEMESIS to cooperative work and that the sum of the final product is more than the sum of its members. This interview made me reflect and see that our project fulfills all this.
Finally, what do you personally enjoy the most about NEMESIS?
What makes me enjoy the most about the NEMESIS project is the involvement of the student, how they “fight” for their personal project to go forward. The desire they put in and the responsibility they acquire without barely realizing it.
And as Leonardo Da Vinci said, «the study without desire spoils the memory and does not retain anything that it takes.» Without a doubt, we learn better and much more easily when we enjoy what we are studying; and I think NEMESIS meets this perfectly.