Bulgarian Teacher Training in New York City

Bulgarian Teacher Training in New York City

Bulgarian teachers visited New York City earlier this month to receive training that can help transform the way they teach high school and University students as part of this year’s three-week Bulgarian Young Leaders Program at Teachers College.

The program reflects College’s Center for Technology and School Change (CTSC) emphasis on the use of technology not in isolation, but as part of an overall rethinking of the learning experience. However, the teacher’s training also focused on changing traditional strategies with regard to the physical aspects of the classroom. Such techniques ensure that the lesson is more focused on the student and conducive to introducing original performance-enhancing tasks so that students can feel more engaged, be this in vocational schools where students prepare for careers in accounting, banking and other business fields, or in biology and art courses.

The program is run by the “America for Bulgaria” Foundation and the Institute of International Education. It is hosted by both the Teacher’s College (TC) Office of International Affairs and the College’s Center for Technology and School Change (CTSC).

Each of the three weeks spent by the Bulgarian teachers at the college, daily sessions were coordinated by Caron Mineo and Kenny Graves from CTSC. Three days each week were spent with CTSC’s co-director, Ellen Meier, and her team of professional development specialists, immersed in an intense program on curriculum and project design, assessment and leadership. On other days, the Bulgarian visited a number of public and private schools to watch different teaching methods in action.

“It’s about using technology as a catalyst for teaching and learning in new ways,” Meier said, adding: “it’s how we can go about the business of learning in more dynamic ways, and that takes both technology and design work in terms of rethinking the learning environment.” Meier said “both countries face a common challenge as more technological tools become available for use in education”.

In addition, teachers from both countries spent several sessions discussing the differences between various school systems, curricula and policy environments as well as learning techniques which could bring school change in the United States and Bulgaria, placing emphasis on what teachers from each country might learn from one another.

“Teachers need help in learning how to design thoughtful classroom projects with these tools”, Meier said. “Otherwise we risk appropriating the tools in ways that simply reinforce the status quo, as opposed to using them to explore new ways of creating learning opportunities for all students”.

The Bulgarian participants were quite tech-savvy and acquainted with technology more than the average American teacher. “We have multimedia, smart-boards, and I’m a big Moodle fan,” said Ludmila Teneva, who teaches English in Smolyan, a ski-resort town. “But [during the sessions] we saw a lot of different uses of this technology, and this will bring more variety into my teaching process.” The program’s emphasis on the design process helped teachers develop new approaches and projects organized around student understanding.

“The most striking thing I learnt is to embrace change in thinking about planning lessons” said Kremena Radoeva, who teaches at a different school in Silistra. “Now I see should have started designing my syllabus and my classroom projects starting from the goals, not from the activities, and working backwards toward the different ways to achieve them”.

“I can be more efficient in my classes now”, said Gospodinova, who teaches at a large vocational school. “And I can be more inspiring for my students. That’s the moral reward when you’re a teacher.”

As the program ended, Meier reminded participants that they might have to pick and choose among all the new ideas they would want to share with their colleagues back home. She invited them to work with their colleagues collaboratively, in the same spirit of “co-creation” that she tried to bring to the training program.