• Anita Demitroff

The More We Get Together. An Interview with Carla Rocha.

Many of us are waiting for the chance to travel again. There are foreigners who haven’t seen their families in such a long time. And those who miss the adventure of travelling; language teachers are natural explorers, curious about other cultures. But one group that is especially keen to get back on an aeroplane is the Erasmus Plus community. On-line meetings are useful, but they can't replace the type of work that gets done when working shoulder-to-shoulder with colleagues from other European countries.

Fran Seftel has already written about her experience in Portugal in this blog post. Now it's Carla Rocha’s turn to tell us about Erasmus Plus. Carla is an English teacher in Ponte do Sor, in the central region of Portugal, the Alentejo.

Hi Carla, can you tell me about the Erasmus Plus project in general terms: objectives, duration, members and work already accomplished?

Hi. Kitos@21stCenturyPreschools was an early second language learning (ESLL) project to promote a high-quality early childhood programme in Portugal and the European countries of the Erasmus consortium.

Using a variety of pedagogical approaches to support children's global development, the idea was to equip learners for 21st Century challenges. The project focused on the needs of two target groups: children in Pre-school education and their EY teachers and specialist colleagues in English, Music and Physical Education, as well as the school leadership team.

The project had quite ambitious aims: to develop an integrated pedagogical approach that combines the most effective, creative and innovative teaching strategies; to enhance the quality of 21st Century teaching skills in Pre-school education; to engage Pre-school teachers and subject teachers in adequate training events to develop 21st century skills and multiple languages proficiency and to promote collaborative work and teaching strategies to create teaching units and resources.

The project involved partners from Portugal, Italy, Turkey and Poland, who were chosen for their expertise in the fields of Pre-school education, second language learning and bilingual projects, as well as for their specific expertise in Music Learning Theory as a means to promote several cognitive and non-cognitive skills in Pre-school children.

Between 2015 and 2018, we had training sessions in different areas of Pre-school education, international meetings and other events. The fruits of our efforts included a handbook, materials and resources for both English and music and case studies with action research.

Thanks. Why did you and your school join the project?

Kiitos was started in 2006 when the Ponte de Sor municipal government committed to improving education in the locality. In 2015 the same municipal government decided to apply for an Erasmus KA partnership to improve our practices and reinforce our training.

Personally, what did you find the most rewarding aspects of being part of this group were?

For me, it was having the possibility to learn from other people's experiences, thereby enriching my work and changing the way I am at school. I challenged myself and managed to accomplish things I would never have dreamed of. As a group leader it melted my heart to feel that my English colleagues have also grown as professionals, providing a better service at school. Another aspect that is worth mentioning is that we learn with everybody and everybody learns with us.

Were there any surprises when working with people from different countries and cultures?

There are always surprises, but they were good ones!

Fran Seftel said that, paradoxically, it took an international project for her to get closer to her colleagues at home. That is, in the rush of the day-to-day routine, there is little time to get together and get to know each other, even though we are working alongside each other. Did you and your colleagues find this was the case as well?

I understand what Fran Seftel means perfectly. When developing this type of project, people get involved much more than they usually do. On the other hand, projects like Erasmus Plus mean we have to work together, relying on each other’s help and support because the workload is heavy.

For us, this came as no surprise as we were already used to working collaboratively. Kiitos itself is a partnership between the Pre-school teacher and subject teachers, namely the English, Music and Physical Education specialists. The four colleagues work together, planning, putting into practice activities and assessing children.

In 2010 the English teachers involved in the project set up what we called “Speaking Sessions.” These happened once a week and involved the English teachers getting together to prepare materials, discuss strategies, prepare assessment documents and share best practices.

There was only one obligation: everything had to be done in English. We felt that our level of English and fluency could be on the line. I believe a language needs to practised and when you're in the Pre-school classroom for two hours a day, the English you use must be simple and clear, which means your command of the language doesn't really improve. The "Speaking Sessions" put us all to the test. And we could see that our fluency and pronunciation skills soared.

Is it worth getting involved in this kind of project? Would you recommend others to do it? And why?

It is, definitely. Is it a lot of work? Yes, it is, but it's worth it. We learn so much, either in professional terms or personal ones. And by the end of a project like this, we come out as better teachers, better prepared to face the challenges our children demand.

Thanks, Carla. That was most enlightening!

Ana Demitroff was our interviewer.

Bio: Ana has been in the classroom longer than she cares to admit, but she still gets a kick from the experience and continues to learn from her colleagues and students at the You First Language Centre.

Carla Rocha is an experienced English teacher and a key member of APPI, the Association of Portuguese English Teachers. As someone with a positive attitude and the capacity for balancing her work and family life, she has loads of followers on Facebook!