Reflections on a decade of partnership working
Three of our partner schools have worked together for over ten years; one joined in 2015, and the final member of the partnership in 2017. Here are the reflections of colleagues in each school after a decade of partnership and friendship.
Ulrike Müller, Germany
joined the partnership in 2015
One day a colleague asked me, why I do the Erasmus+ partnership work? It is a lot of additional effort… ‘Yes it is’, I answered, but in any case it is beneficial. Here are some reflections on the benefits of partnership work.
There is a huge impact on your own work: working together with partners across Europe gives you the opportunity to see many different school systems and the organisation of everyday life in these schools. You can see what is the focus of their pedagogical work, how the same problems you have at home are solved. You can also adopt concrete ideas for your teaching. You see the different relationship between teachers and students, which may let you reflect on your own position.
Working on pedagogical projects improves your own teaching, because there is always the opportunity to reflect on your everyday work while working on a certain topic. And you get a different view of your own situation and the conditions at your school; you might think ‘It could be worse’ or you can focus on how you might make efforts to improve conditions.
There is an impact on your school and your students: the whole school benefits from these extraordinary projects. It is exciting to welcome guests from all over Europe. There is a spirit of community in diversity, and students often remember these projects years later, and have a better relationship with their school. In addition, the proposals and suggestions that emerge in a project can improve the organisation and the work of your own school.
And finally the benefit for you: partnership work is a personal gain. To complete a project successfully, to organise a huge meeting successfully, and to feel the joy of everybody makes you content. You improve your own skills in language, organisation, building up relationships. You can learn about other cultures more than you ever could by only travelling there. And the most important benefit: you will develop lifelong friendships with extraordinary and engaged people all across Europe.
Reflections on our partnership: there are four characteristics that make our partnership so extraordinary:
1. solidarity: in our partnership we went through highs and lows together. There was always the feeling, that we can manage it together;
2. openness: there was always communication if there were any problems. New members of the partnership, teachers that joined us, were always welcomed cordially. Everybody had the feeling of belonging to the group immediately;
3. persistence: although, when there were longer gaps between the projects or we didn’t see each other for some month, there was always a feeling of connectivity;
4. reliability: a common purpose of the partnership gives us a strong sense of reliability. We always felt safe and are sure that – with the help of our co-ordinator, Richard – the purpose will be achieved.
Marianna Budai, Hungary
joined the partnership in 2009
The successful implementation of ‘Innovate to Create II’ (ItC2) Erasmus+ project derives from a decade of a unique, multinational partnership among partner schools across Europe. Although the composition of partner schools and co-ordinators of the project has changed several times, the core of the team of co-ordinators has been able to facilitate an ongoing principle of balanced collaboration, preference for high standards of professional development, appropriate response to cultural challenges as well as absolute commitment to European values.
In partnerships partners can effectively work together in the long run if they can find the way to share labour and influence appropriately. Labour and influence have always been shared optimally, though the projects have been co-ordinated by the main co-ordinator who has been responsible for the managing tasks of the project implementation. As all the partners participated in the projects from the very early stage of the project planning, they could articulate the amount of labour they could take on and the level of influence they preferred. Although these may have changed during the project implementation because of unexpected circumstances, the partners did not need to fulfil their tasks according to the original plan but could redefine their roles and reallocate the tasks accordingly.28
Having completed three projects the partners gained considerable experience related to the field of their profession. At the beginning of the partnership, in the Comenius project, there were more opportunities for getting acquainted with cultures compared to the other two projects where professional issues became more and more crucial. The more professional issues the partners encountered, the more advantageous the project became for their career and professional development. For instance, the partners could improve their language proficiency and music skills, develop managing skills and digital literacy. They have learnt how to experiment with new ideas related to education, how important creativity in the learning process is, how to work with external creative practitioners and how to implement an action research programme. Partners acquired increased confidence based on the continuous evaluation and assessment processes.
For the past decade (the partnership was founded in a Contact Seminar in London, 2008, organised by the British Council) eight schools from seven countries have taken part in the project. Finnish, and Swedish teachers from the north, Catalan teachers from Spain, the southern part of Europe, Italian, Polish and English teachers from the UK, the western part of Europe, German teachers from the middle of Europe, Hungarian teachers from the eastern part of the continent and Turkish teachers from the east. Moreover, the students involved have had multicultural backgrounds, for example Pakistani and Afghan, Bangladeshi and Somali. Despite the rich and fertile colourfulness of multiculturalism, it is not surprising that the partnership has had to face cultural challenges several times even when all the partners had been prepared to prevent them. Confusion has always been eliminated by open communication and the crises were resolved through negotiation and discussion by the individuals involved.
Nevertheless, European dimension meant the most solid and stable element of the three projects the partnership has implemented. The individuals co-ordinating the projects in the partner schools have been and still are strongly commited to European values even if one of the partner schools will not have the opportunity to participate in any more Erasmus+ projects. I firmly believe that the meaning of the term ’European citizenship’ has altered dramatically for all the teachers and students involved. Working together with teachers and students across Europe provided the participants with valuable experiences, which have increased their awareness of being a European citizen.
All in all, a decade of partnership working has its ups and downs. On the one hand, partners have to face difficulties as collaboration in completing a project requires great efforts in detailed planning, careful arrangements, practical implementation and, last-but-not-least, continuous adjustments and replanning. Moreover, the partners need tolerance and sincerity to be able to overcome the problems deriving from multiculturalism. On the other hand, you can enjoy enormous benefits of professional development in addition to the incomparable experience of multiculturalism and togetherness in an organisation, the European Union, which means much more than the organisation itself. It means a shared belief in European values. In my opinion, the pros outweigh the cons while working together for partners’ mutual benefit. And what about your own personal benefits? You will make lifelong friends.
Bàrbara Duran Bordoy, Spain
joined the partnership in 2009
The first project in which our schools were involved was a Comenius one, and some of the participants have been in the subsequent Erasmus+ projects since 2009. It has to be said that the collaboration between the German team and the Spanish one was possible because Ulrike Müller and Bàrbara Duran met in a Comenius ‘Individual Mobility’ for teachers, which was the beginning of ‘Innovate to Create I’. Bàrbara Duran contacted their former Comenius partner, Regent High School, and Anna Blackman then Richard Harrison took on the general co-ordinator role.
The experience of being in contact with an international team has been amazing. As a teacher, the questions that are raised when you are involved in these projects are:
- Am I able to work in an international team and framework, facing the difficulties that may come?
- Am I able to teach to students I have never met before, although I have my colleagues’ support at every moment?
- Am I able to teach in an innovative way, creating new spaces for learning/teaching, avoiding my comfort zone and looking for new teaching strategies?
- Am I able to feel confident teaching in English, even it is my second, third language?
- Am I able to share my experience, my evaluation of my own and other people's work?
- Am I able to transfer these experiences to my school, other colleagues or students, and even in my future professional career?
It has to be said that, after finishing our second project, we are convinced that the answer to all of these questions is ‘yes’. We encourage teachers from all the Erasmus+ countries to participate, to innovate, to be confident that every problem will be solved because you learn how to deal with all the small troubles. As one of the teacher participants said, ‘It has been a Master’s degree for me, although I did not apply for it. It has been a continuous learning process’.
Some of the main issues that an international team has to face are:
- the different partners have different schedules for their school years, so sometimes it is really difficult to find time for the meetings for students and teachers. It is helpful to programme every stage in advance, and to also take into account that holidays, bank holidays and exams will always be a problem;
- the social backgrounds of students and schools can be a challenge for the teaching team; in an international context, these elements have to be taken into consideration, because they will likely be increased;
- different teaching methods: teachers have to be able to understand different methodologies and how every member of the team responds to each national curriculum and teaching approaches. This is, though, enriching for every member; it is a continuous process that feeds the teachers’ training;
- different approaches to the general education system in each country.
There are, though, many positive aspects that can be emphasised after ten years of partnership:
- the confidence and friendship established between the teaching team is close and embraces both professional and personal aspects. There is, as well, an insight to the abilities and weak points of every participant;
- the professional feedback that an international teacher team provides: this is an immense gift because teachers do not always have such an opportunity to be evaluated in a professional setting that allows them to grow as an educator;
- the opportunity to work with students from different cultural backgrounds, languages and countries in a free way: the Erasmus+ programme provides a sort of ‘break’ in the normal school day that allows students and teachers to experiment in a more free way. This may help to understand that sticking to usual methods is not always good;
- observation and feedback become the main tools for the professional development of all participants;
- Erasmus+ projects increase the ability to understand different national approaches to education systems, so that participants develop new strategies that affect their personal way of thinking about education.
All-in-all, working together for more than ten years has been an incredible experience, and has made a profound impact not only on our way of understanding teaching and learning but also living as committed teachers.
Emil Gefvert, Joakim Gillman & Petter Lobell, Sweden
joined the partnership in 2017
We are quite new to this partnership, having only been part for the last two (which became three) years. As Richard states, we heard about the project in 2017, when sitting in his office. It was Joakim Gillman and a former colleague named Jenny Karlsson who tried to find an international partnership, and since the project needed an additional partner to get accepted it was a win-win situation, and we joined.
What we feel that we have gained through this project is, first of all, an understanding of what teaching is like in different European countries. We have learnt that schools are regulated and run in different ways, for example when it comes to the content of the teaching (the freedom for teachers to choose which texts to read, which essays to write etc.), the resources (technical devices such as projectors, computers and Internet), and rules applied at the schools.
Secondly, through lesson observations we have, despite what we wrote above, experienced that the teaching of English looks rather similar and it has been easy for the teachers to teach in an international setting, with students from different countries.
Lastly, through the student exchange mobilities, our students have gained a broader understanding of the world outside the city of Örebro. They have also made some new international friends which will hopefully in the long run make the world more connected.
Richard Harrison, United Kingdom
joined the partnership in 2009
Working with our partners in Germany, Hungary, Spain and Sweden has been a privilege and a defining relationship in my career.
I was aware of our ‘Art Brought to Life’ Comenius partnership before starting at Regent High School, when I was working with Sixth Form students in my capacity as an external practitioner at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. These students were preparing to go on their exchange to Turkey in 2011, having been unable to travel to Hungary in 2010 because of the eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Hearing about this incredible opportunity for students and staff from across Europe to come together piqued my interest in transnational collaboration. Seeing the excitement in the students, hearing from the staff about how the project had been conceived, and knowing that students at schools across the continent were collaborating on a performance that would be premiered in Turkey was hugely exciting.
After joining Regent High School in 2012 I worked closely with Anna Blackman, our Arts College Manager, to develop our first Erasmus+ project, ‘Innovate to Create’, with our existing partners from Hungary and Spain, and joined by Bertha von Suttner School in Germany. After Anna left Regent High School, I assumed the leadership of the project. I can still remember how daunting but also exhilarating it felt to open our first meeting in Mallorca in November 2015, aware that I was new to the project and to chairing meetings comprising representatives from four different countries. That first meeting turned into a series of other meetings and exchanges, at the end of which we agreed that there was more to explore and we would apply again for Erasmus+ funding.
It was with the heaviest of hearts that on the morning of 24 June 2016, I opened a video conference with our partner schools in the midst of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. It is a testament to our group of collaborators that we continued in a ‘business as usual’ style, planning the next part of the project while not dwelling on the decision taken by the British electorate.
We were undeterred when our 2017 funding application narrowly missed being accepted, and took heed of the advice to introduce a new partner with a new perspective into the project team. Cut forward to February 2018 and Joakim Gillman and his colleague, Jenny Karlsson, were sitting in my office in Regent High School trying to keep up with my over enthusiastic reflections on our recent Erasmus+ project, and our exciting ideas for a new project involving music and English language. Despite this, they said yes to joining our partnership, and were warmly welcomed by the full team.
The news of our successful funding application in 2018 – which totalled €142,742 across the partnership – provided an opportunity to conclude our investigation of the triumvirate of arts subjects – music – alongside an exploration of the very language that had united us throughout the project. This new project – which will be Regent High School’s last because of Britain’s withdrawal from Erasmus+ – took the form of an action research investigation. It is more complex than our previous collaborations but is rooted in the trust, respect and humility that are the hallmarks of our working relationship. Its aim is to extend our individual and collective practice, while also supporting the development of pedagogy across Europe.
This reflection and the toolkit overall, are dedicated to the current and former colleagues, partners and students who have collaborated on this ten-year journey of cultural education inquiry and innovation. It is written with the European Union values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights29 at the forefront of our minds and our actions. It is written to honour cultural and educational endeavour. It is written by friends, for friends.
28 Makleff, S. ‘Reflections on establishing and sustaining partnership.’ Location unknown: Rethinking Research Collaborative, date unknown. Visit this website.
29 European Union. ‘The EU in brief: Goals and values of the EU'. Brussels: European Union, 2021. Visit this website. [Accessed 19 June 2021].