Transcript – Principal Susana Lamela – The role of the school management team. Reaching agreements and training experience
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Transcript – Principal Susana Lamela – The role of the school management team. Reaching agreements and training experience

Something I want to make clear is that this doesn’t go smoothly without having big arguments within the team. And when I say the team I’m including the groups of teachers. Of course, in a secondary school such as Vilte [the school name] with a large number of teachers, some of them have more teaching hours and others have fewer teaching hours. Something we never avoid are big arguments and also, we always tolerate uncertainty, we tolerate not having a clear direction, but we try things out. Because again, when something wasn’t satisfactory, we tried things out.

Regarding what you were saying, at some point we ran a project that was a milestone for the school; we called it credits and internships. That’s when students’ participation grew immensely. We wanted to give room not only to theoretical learning but to social commitment, to working in community organizations. So we started the credit and internship project, and we saw that students took on a big responsibility and did great work. And at that point we also started to question the matter of testing students. Why was the written exam the only way to test them? All the work and the learnings, the acquired responsibility, the political commitment, the outlook—how was the value of this measured?

We argued that all of that had to be taken into account—some people accepted it and others didn’t because “this doesn’t correspond specifically to my subject’s contents.” What I want to convey in this interview is that nothing was achieved without a fight, nothing is achieved without a fight, because— In fact, when I was close to retiring from the school, at a meeting I told my colleagues that I knew they felt proud to be part of the Vilte [school], but that they had to understand that everything we achieved was not a result of being like-minded, it’s because there was a group that imposed itself or imposed their outlook by having a little daily fight to try to convince a colleague, by arguing, but when this little daily fight subdues, the other thing can emerge.

To make it clear, these disagreements are always present, just as they are present in society in relation to political ideas. These disagreements between the most conservative and the most adventurous attitudes, or whatever you want to call it, are always present. And in order to sustain these, it’s necessary to have the little daily fights.

So we put up a fight regarding testing. What was it that we had to assess? What did the mark have to represent? In fact, for a long time— And even Bracchi [as an official] knows about the arguments I had, and we really fought [to change] the school format: students used to repeat the grade if they had failed two subjects, and very often we generated other assessment instances before determining the student’s retention, because we were very aware that at our school there were hardly any dropouts, students didn’t give up school, they felt good in school, there were very few cases, hardly any, it wasn’t a serious problem to see to, but grade retention was.

And what we knew was that retention didn’t result in more learning, it resulted in more retention. So what we brought into question— Later, some alternatives started to come up; the scoring scheme also changed, now the student could sit an exam for a third subject. I don’t remember the exact words now, I mean, forgive me if I have inaccuracies. Anyway, all of this came up later, but we put up a lot of fights.

For example, we also [had conflicts] regarding who was responsible for students’ learning and gaining skills in reading and writing, as it wasn’t only the Language and Literature or Language Arts teacher. We argued about a student who painted terrific graffiti and made terrific drawings: where did he fit, and how was his value measured? And we always saw his drawings under the desk and there wasn’t any room for recognizing this knowledge.

Those conflicts existed, of course we didn’t always reach the best resolution because, of course, personal outlooks and discussions come into play, but I think those arguments also widen the outlook of teachers. So the assessment started to include other things: not only giving a score to an answer. In fact, we even tried to challenge the meaning of the answer, which was sometimes verbatim, sometimes it showed little understanding, sometimes it had been copied. What was it a reflection of? What was given a score? But anyway, very often there were more questions than answers, but what mattered was to have the chance to ask questions.