Interview with DAR Foundation Director
Interview with DAR foundation director
“School exerts tremendous influence on the shaping of the personality, a person’s values, skills and patterns of thinking. At our school, we try to instill in children an ability to think, analyze, propose solutions and act. Their lives are full of a great deal of variegated and fascinating impressions and experiences; this builds up their personalities and enables them to grasp the essence of different occupations. We bring up full-blooded, happy and curious people who tackle any task with enthusiasm and creative commitment. Children who are creative and committed to their country are our future.”
Tell us about the project itself – where did the idea of the Foundation come from and what is its principal mission?
The Foundation is now eight years old. Our principal objectives are:
Plus numerous other specific projects consonant with our values and preferences. We develop what we regard as effective, and devote great attention to the development of thinking.
We support several Orthodox Church projects. An Orthodox Church gymnasium in Arzamas is undergoing vigorous renovation; we have built and are maintaining an orphanage at Nikolo-Solbinsky convent and the Dimitrievskaya gymnasium for girls at the First City Hospital.
As of now, our pet project is School 261. It was a run-of-themill district school and on the verge of being closed when we took it up. Three years ago, we barely recruited enough kids to fill a single first grade, but this year, on enlistment day, we had a full-scale first grade and a total of 150 children.
Our school, incidentally, was a case study under the Skolkovo MBA program in the section of public-private partnerships.
The task of the students was to draw up a model of reform for 2009-2010, It was the best project of the student group. It really fired the students who, uniquely, produced a 100-page case prospectus, a kind of operating manual 10.
So what did you accomplish and how did you manage it?
To begin with, we created a unique educational environment.
We completely changed the outlay of the building itself and the school’s inner premises. We engaged the finest of architects: the structural and interior design is conducive to effective conduct of the educational process. In addition, the drawing up of the architectural design and renovation work itself were completed within an unprecedentedly short period of six months.
Naturally, the environment is not everything. We restaffed the faculty and modernized the curriculum. The changes in the teaching staff do not mean that we replaced all the teachers. The older teachers were offered a chance to stay and, together, develop a school open to change and evolution. Not all of them found this to their liking.
Our objective was to make use of the best and most useful Soviet school could offer and combine this with modern international techniques.
The school under the Soviets did have a lot of good things – suffice it to recall the initiation of kinds as Octobrists, Young Pioneers and YCL members. Essentially, the underlying idea is patronage – in studies and in everyday life. This is a very effective mechanism producing great results.
The “children for children” system is simply excellent. Younger kids learn better from seniors because they understand how to explain things; older kids, as they help juniors, get the subject straight and feel more confident. This helps strengthen them psychologically, gives them self-confidence – but not at the expense of but with the help of someone else.
What was the source of this idea?
The idea of creating a model school belongs to Nikita Mishin, not just one of our founders but also someone actively involved in the drawing up of all our programs. Nikita is a frequent visitor at the school, attending various school events – performances and festivals.
I think the basic idea is commitment to your country, an effort to bring up children who will not wish to emigrate. Children who take pride in their country because this is where they were born, precisely here, and who know and cherish their history. Children who grow up to be “makers,” who are not indifferent, who want to be of use to their country.
We do not expect all of them to become university students. One can be just as happy paving the roads, and this is wonderful.
Each person has a mission which is inborn; if a person is in the right place doing what he or she feels is best, such a person is happy and living in harmony. And, in order for you to be able to spot your choice, it is extremely important to grasp at the right time what you want to do, at what you are at your best, and this is one of the more important mission of secondary school – to give an impetus to development, to guide you and to turn you in the right direction.
Our country spends a lot of money on education. Our wish is that, having received an education, people would want to contribute what they have learned to their country.
Tell us about the teachers and their attitude to training?
Today, our team of teachers are a mixture of experienced, “old-school” and new teachers.
The important thing is that more than one-half of our teachers are not professional educators; instead, they are professionals successful in their chosen field, people fiercely committed to their cause and seeking to share their knowledge and expertise – architects, mathematicians, literary scholars, artists.
I even think I can come up with an algorithm of inner qualities required for a school teacher:
a) To love your subject;
b) To love children;
c) To wish to teach and to teach to love your subject.
At first glance, nothing surprising. But if even one of the components is missing, the system will not work. Everything is there except for the teaching talent, and it won’t work. And talent is a divine gift, you cannot learn to be a teacher. One can teach “how to conduct lessons,” but that is something quite different.
Another very important aspect is that we have many male teachers, almost 40 percent. That is a great rarity in modern school teaching.
Unfortunately, most kids are now brought up by their mothers: fathers either come and go or are absent completely. Yet harmonious personal development calls for the involvement of a man – as father, teacher or tutor. This is important for psychological comfort, for the structuring of certain basic values.
Continuous development and change is one of the fundamental principles built into our school. Time flies as never before; what used to be a constant becomes transient overnight.
The school of the future means motion; if school is a constant, it is a school of the past.
We are dealing with time that is ever accelerating. It is no longer essential to have a physics lab, you can use the Internet for teaching purposes. It is a real revolution in education. Unless you are responsive to the winds of change, the kids will retire you as a teacher. Teachers must literally keep pace, and then children will respond.
Yet children are highly conservative, and they need an environment that combines stability and a response to change.
We have traditions – a framework onto which visual change and content change are built.
We stage two performances a year. That is an unchangeable tradition. The rest we invent depending on this or that mood. One day it is a quest, another day it is a visit to the theater or a poetic contest.
Everything changes – both the content of the lessons and the attitude to teaching, as well as the visual environment – the color of the walls, the recreation room, labs travel from class to class. We have a fine arts studio, a music school and a motion picture club, so our environment is diverse and mobile.
The walls have a special coating on which one can write. The vestibule of the school has a sensor floor and an antique wise grand piano which is always with us, greeting us unhurriedly and warmly.
We created our library together. Each kid could bring in any book, and this is so to this day: we have a live and changing library.
We try, we test, we get feedback. Our school is alive and vigorous.
Our teachers do not mark time, they are full of initiative, in love with their work; they are not indifferent, they are committed and full of ideas and energy.
Here is an example for you. We were terribly lucky to get a fantastic teacher of technology. Having worked in school for eighteen months, she said we needed a muffle furnace. She wanted to learn ceramics, attend a pottery course and then teach our children. We immediately supported the idea, and we now have a pottery class.
Our technology class is simply a miracle, completely unusual. We created a dream of a kitchen with excellent equipment – a dishwasher, a washing machine, an oven, a range and a special finishing table.
Our kids make real gazpacho, not a bit worse than at a neighborhood Spanish restaurant. They lay the table with finesse and invite their fellow students and teachers.
It is very important for a girl to be a good homemaker: before the revolution, this was an invariable subject of the curriculum. Young girls learned to cook, to lay and clear the table. You can no longer learn this from your parents, so school should take care of that.
We have dedicated teachers who take great pleasure in the teaching process. Nothing is more instructive than personal involvement. If your personal involvement is at odds with what you declare, children will not hear you.
We undertake numerous applied science projects with the children using an active and value-added approach. Here is an example. In “the world’s artistic culture” class, the kids were studying dolmens. This class is taught by a remarkable architect, Artemy Viktorovich Avakumov. So he went our onto the street together with the children and used various pebbles and rocks to shape dolmens. The kids will now never forget what a dolmen is like. They looked so nice and unusual that we have even posted their photos on our website.
We also have a club called “Artel.” What the kids create we offer at various charitable events. At one of the master classes, the children made stunning silk scarves with felt pompoms – a special technique of fulling on a piece of silk – of stunning beauty.
We had an exhibition of aprons, and the best won awards, on New Year’s eve we conducted a master class in the making of gingerbread toys.
The most distinctive feature of our approach is that we create a system. It is a set of principles, an approach to education, a structural element. A school which can be used as a model, a kind of mass-produced history.
The problem is that most of our schools are personalized. As long as a school is run by the principal, he or she translates his or her ideas into reality. After the principal leaves, these ideas are only sustained for three to five years – at best.
In future, we plan to describe all our know-how, to draw up a kind of operating manual. We are thinking about a center of teaching techniques to train educators.
What do the children like best?
They best love to play – the learning level is very high, children open up more and absorb things better than ever. In general, today’s children are infantile and immature, partly due to the availability of numerous gadgets. Play is exactly what you need in elementary, secondary and even high school: children in different age groups readily respond to game-shaped types of work. For example, highly popular in economic geography class are projects where the students are asked to draw up a business plan for their own company.
The important thing is to teach them to learn all the time, to analyze information, make decisions and efficiently use modern resources. The most important thing is to teach them to be human.
We use fascinating novel techniques: we have recently engaged a group of experts who conducted two distinctive courses for high school children. The students were offered a survival course. This is personalized training to promote unconventional attitudes to the solution of complex problems. The training is in the form of a discussion of case studies. There are no ready-made answers, the kids are working with the underlying meanings.
Fifth- and sixth-graders have completed a course of an effective school student. It promotes skills of learning, analysis, asking questions and reflecting on problems. We combine our techniques, and we experiment. Future teaching techniques are synthetic approaches to education, absorbing classical methods and modern interactive techniques. A person should develop harmoniously and, particularly, in order to become aware of one’s vocation, try different things.