Volume:6, Issue: 2

Sep. 1, 2014

The Ural workshops: Self-determination in the sphere of educational ideas
Demakova, Irina D. [about]

KEY WORDS: strategy, self-determination, qualification improvement, education, present-day challenges, humanization, Janusz Korczak.

ABSTRACT: This paper presents the results of the project called “Teachers’ educational activities within the renewed strategy of education.” It was designed and implemented in June 2014 by the Department of Continuing Professional Education (Perm State Humanitarian Pedagogical University) in cooperation with the Department of Pedagogy and Psychology (Academy of Qualification Improvement and Professional Retraining).

Current challenges: Russian Federation regulations on strategies of developing education

“Strategy” means an art of planning; an activity based on precise estimation and skilful leadership in order to achieve general goals. Each of the definitions is meaningful, but if we consider social education (vospitanije – in Russian), then strategy can be interpreted as a system of measures aimed at achieving a long-term competitive advantage of the Russian education.

Over the past ten years the problems of children’s social education have been among the top priorities in Russian legislation. The most prominent document is the Presidential Decree from June 2012 “On the national strategy of measures aimed at the benefit of children for the period of 2012-2017.” The Decree analyzed social problems that seriously impacted “children’s environment” and often resulted in dehumanization of society. Special attention is given to how to teach peacefulness, increased resistance to ethnic, religious and political conflicts among children and youth, how to build a comfortable and friendly environment for children, how to develop social partnership technology, how to implement public and professional expertise, disseminate positive European experience relating to social education and respect for children’s rights, and finally how to promote positive socialization among children and youth.

Measures to improve the system of social education should not be spontaneous and autonomous. However, the realization of this task in each region, town or school may involve original programs, which differ from each other; but it is clear that that there should be an invariant part, without which it will be impossible to realize the strategy as defined above. In particular, it is necessary to develop a new professional retraining system for schoolteachers and university faculty.

From my personal diary

I have been working in the system of professional development for over 20 years. Before that I was a schoolteacher of literature, school vice principal for social education, and a university professor in the Department of Education. At the beginning when I just started in the field of professional development, I did not feel extremely interested working with adults, who often were quite experienced, but then I found a special attraction in it. This happened when I redefined priorities in my work and realized how important it was to improve teachers’ understanding and skills in the sphere of social education. I focused on the questions of meanings, specific character, and the conceptual basis of teachers’ mentoring activities. My top priority was and still is how to humanize social education.

I spent the first 10 years in professional retraining, working with supervising teachers, vice principals for social education, school psychologists, school counselors, heads of extracurricular clubs and workshops, and leaders of youth camps. This work enriched my professional expertise and allowed me to acquire a better vision of teachers’ problems. Over the last 10 years, together with my colleagues, faculty from Pedagogy and Psychology Department at the Academy of Qualification Improvement and Professional Retraining, I have been focusing on university faculty helping them to gain theoretical knowledge of social education, study the best home and world practices in this sphere, and design an educational environment at the university level in order to provide proper training of future teachers.

It is these goals that we put forth when setting up professional retraining courses at the Perm State Humanitarian Pedagogical University. The curriculum and syllabus were sent to the course participants in advance. The objectives included development of the participants’ professional thinking and their self-determination in the sphere of educational ideas.

Another problem, which I found extremely important, was shaped during my internship at an Institute of professional retraining for educators in the Netherlands. My Dutch colleagues told me that what their adult students need was encouragement and inspiration. This idea was very appealing to me as I always try encouraging and inspiring people who work in education. I believe that creating the emotional atmosphere of stability is the key to success in professional retraining courses.

The content of professional retraining program

We believe it is beneficial to enhance our program with the latest research publications and conference materials which are highly appraised by our professional community. For instance, we used papers and reports prepared by leading educators and psychologists in 2014. Much attention was also paid to providing our listeners with home and foreign materials on humanistic approaches in social education.

The program included 5 sections:

  • Section 1. “On strategies to develop social education” with such key concepts as “childhood,” “childhood environment,” “a teacher within the childhood’s environment.”
  • Section 2. “Contemporary theory and practice of social education” contained materials from Ludmilla I. Novikova’s school of thought. They provided interpretations of such phenomena as “social education,” “mentoring activity,” “educational environment,” “educational space,” and “system of education.”
  • Section 3 was devoted to the humanistic educator Janusz Korczak. It explored his pedagogical system, interpretation of children’s rights, and conditions for implementation of his ideas and findings.
  • Section 4 examined pedagogical innovations within the panel discussion “Theory of education in the context of contemporary science and world educational practices.”
  • Section 5 addressed the concept of modern teachers’ mentoring activities with the special attention paid to values, goals, priorities, functions, content, efficiency criteria, and success indicators of a teacher’s educational activity.

Workshop organization

The program participants included faculty of education and psychology from the Perm State Humanitarian Pedagogical University, schoolteachers, instructors of primary vocational institutions, boarding school principals, primary and secondary school principals and their deputies, supervising teachers, and tutors. A special group included young university instructors (in different subjects) with one or two-year experience, who did not have a major or a special interest in the theory of social education.

The specific nature of our students predetermined how our training was organized: all 75 students had lectures, watched films and video materials together followed by discussions, disputes, and talks. It was also important to hold discussions in small groups and pairs. Groups were formed at random so that participants could become acquainted and mix freely irrespective of their specialization and work place. All this contributed to a friendly class atmosphere.

A significant amount of facts and factual knowledge (72 academic hours of on-site and online classes) required intensive work and, consequently, each participant’s personal activity through various formats: workshops, panel discussions, group and pair activities. Much attention was paid to role diversity: group leaders and experts were constantly rotated, and presenters had their share of reviews. Such significant attention to the institute of experts made it possible for course participants, PhD-holders, to show their worth. It was also important to make use of the university facilities and ensure good attendance. All course attendees participated (as presenters, co-presenters, and listeners) in a traditional session of “Research school parade” devoted to the memory of Prof. I.E. Schwartz, the founder of the Perm educational research school.

Our analysis of the program results has demonstrated that many participants found it of crucial importance to develop the concept of modern teacher’s mentoring activity and comprehension of its efficiency criteria as well as an understanding of the role and place of the social educational process in teachers’ work today.

For most participants, such a retraining program means the opportunity of a self-discovery and comprehension of one’s own pedagogical skills: It was important for me to understand my own place in this world and, perhaps, my mission. I understood the importance of self-education, the need to master public speaking skills, etc. It is also important to create a friendly and open atmosphere, to support the participant’s willingness to help each other.

Working with young university faculty

During one of the first days of the program, we discussed the image of modern students with a group of young university faculty. Many participants complained that their students were negligent, lazy, and irresponsible. My question, how they would evaluate their relationships with their students, puzzled the faculty: which relations? What does it have to do with relationships? Then in further discussions we came to the conclusion that, in fact, the relationships we manage to build with our students might have a very serious educational impact on them. What have we offered our students within the past year? Or, perhaps, we have hobbies which we can share with our young friends? Curiously enough, this unexpected twist of our discussion proved to be the most important subject for everybody.

From my personal diary

Upon reflection, I credit changes in the attitudes of many young faculty to their study of Alexander Asmolov’s works. Alexander Asmolov is a prominent Russian psychologist and academic, Head of the Federal Institute of Educational Development. In particular, we discussed Asmolov’s plenary presentation at The Third International Forum “Eurasian educational dialogue” (Yaroslavl, 2014). The subject of the presentation was “A World which Motivates: a strategy of an open personal educational development as a major trend of a society of knowledge in the networking century.” Our young instructors were greatly impressed with the way Asmolov discussed the development of higher education. Here are some examples:

“Even the title of my presentation contains two indicators of our current changes.

The key educational goal of the 21st century, or the networking century, is transforming our life environment, where our children live and develop, and where we live and develop, into a motivating environment, which is promoting self-realization. This is the first indicator.

The second indicator is as follows: when reality changes, we look for a new term so that the semantics of the new reality may be “packed” into it. First, it was “alternative education,” then “out-of-school education,” and after various discussions we finally came to the term “supplementary education” as specified in the law.

We must clearly understand that it is the changing reality (rather than declarations or statements), which makes us say that the system of education is making a giant leap towards changes. Essentially, this leap is a transition towards the era of personalized education that means a unique integration of core and supplementary education. The essence of supplementary education as personalized education means adaptation to changes. Supplementary education is the key adaptation mechanism to changes.”

Reflecting on relationships with their students, university faculty gradually changed attitudes – from direct accusations of being spoiled and selfish – to compassion and a desire to understand and help students. No wonder, these changes in attitudes are reflected in their  essays,

“I have been teaching a foreign language for two years already, and haven’t found the way to get along with my students. What irritates me is that students shamelessly download texts from the Internet, they are not disciplined, not punctual, and they often lie… More than once, I have thought of quitting and looking for a different job. But now, after these classes, meetings, and reflections, I understood that I’m often wrong myself. To cut the long story short, I decided to stay.”


An important part of our retraining program was writing an essay on issues specified in the syllabus. Of course, each essay was special and featured the participants’ deep interest in improving a system of social education in different types of educational institutions. These essays also revealed the level of teachers’ critical thinking and sincerity. Here is just one extract from the essay “Reading Korczak”:

In the introduction to the book about King Matt the First, Janusz Korczak published his childhood photograph and wrote, “When I was the little boy you see in the photograph, I wanted to do all the things that are in this book. But I forgot to, and now I'm old. I no longer have the time or the strength to go to war or travel to the land of the cannibals. I have included this photograph because it's important what I looked like when I truly wanted to be a king, and not when I was writing about King Matt. I think it's better to show pictures of what kings, travelers, and writers looked like before they grew up, or grew old, because otherwise it might seem that they knew everything from the start and were never young themselves. And then children will think they can't be statesmen, travelers, and writers, which wouldn't be true.”

These words written by Janusz Korczak mean that childhood is precious in itself, children’s wishes are boundless, children can dream, and in their dreams there are no obstacles. And we, adults, must respect their dreams, recognize which of them may come true due to each child’s potential, and we must support and help children when they make the first steps to realize their dreams.

Children’s dreams are born and realized in creative games where children use their own short life experience, watch adults and then begin their own life stories.

Playing games is a leading type of activity in early or preschool childhood… It will take a long time to enumerate the benefits of playing games but… what about the present-day situation with this leading type of preschool activity?

Having worked in preschool institutions for almost 45 years, I (and all my psychologist colleagues) regret to say that creative group games take up less and less space in the life of an early and preschool child. I remember my first years of my preschool work (1969-1985). Kids were really playing, and their games could last days extended by new plots and parts. Indeed, there weren’t many toys at that time, but there were many things to substitute them with, and many toys used to be made by children themselves together with teachers and parents… Teachers had more time to observe children playing games and take part themselves in different roles.

And what about now? The concept of “educational services” introduced in the life of preschool children and the practices of educational institutions to earn money by offering supplementary educational services leave increasingly less time for role playing, building games and other group games. Teachers are flooded with paperwork and reports which have to be prepared and submitted – so when can they find time to observe children playing games? Today, parents believe that, having purchased toys for their child is enough to develop children’s capacity to play. The creative group game has dwindled over time. But we shouldn’t forget that even 1 or 2 hours is not enough for a real, “rich” game. So our kids just run through such games in a great hurry. But how about the child’s right to play games as declared by Janusz Korczak? What are the consequences of depriving preschool children of full-fledged games? And what will come next? (L.A. Berseneva, teacher and psychologist from Nursery School No. 16, City of Perm).

Many essays were devoted to various aspects of social education: students’ self-government, civic and patriotic teaching, democratization of school and university, and character education at home. The teachers also wrote about their work. Here is an extract from one of their essays:

My work is part of me. When I see that everything is alright at my work, things run smoothly as I planned, I feel really excited and rewarded because I also contributed my efforts. It happens that you dream about something, you achieve it, and then it is no longer important. It happens… In this case I don’t get frustrated – I just gave myself completely to work. It’s impossible otherwise: I am vice principal for social education, i.e. I am an organizer, a diplomat, an advocate, a psychologist, an entrepreneur, and a designer – in other words, I am responsible for everything. I should also emphasize the importance of cooperation in our work. I understand cooperation as distribution of responsibility among teachers, students and parents for creating educational environment at school… It gives me pride to realize that I do my favorite work, and I am grateful that my family understands and helps me (S.I. Yudina, vice principal, Lyceum No. 9, City of Perm).

Emotional atmosphere of the courses

As already mentioned, I find it of primary importance to create a positive climate during the classes. I tried to create situations of success and achievement for each course participant, using methods which provoked encouragement and interaction. Students were encouraged to practice independent thinking, emotional input and behavior, and participation in discussions. Spontaneous situations of fun, laughter, mischief and witticism were specifically created, used and supported. Documentaries and feature films produced a special impact on the participants and contributed to building a favorable atmosphere.

During the final class the participants were asked to fill in a questionnaire. Among others there were such questions as, which events were the most memorable for you? Did you experience delight, shock, resentment, flight of fancy, loneliness, self-confidence, or weariness? What caused those emotions? The final question was: What to expect tomorrow?

When asked which events were the most memorable, the most popular response (30%) belonged to course participants who mentioned documentaries devoted to the ideas of the prominent academic Ludmilla  Novikova, a great educator and humanist Janusz Korczak, a documentary about physically challenged people entitled “About Love”, such feature films as “Like Stars on Earth” (India) and “Korczak” (directed by Andrzej Wajda, Poland). Second in popularity were responses related to Janusz Korczak (21%) while the third place was given to organizational issues (17%). 

In addition to the above responses, there were many individual and original opinions. However, the overall impression may be expressed in the following words, “We enjoyed the atmosphere of the classes, everything was worth remembering, each day brought new discoveries encouraging us to reconsider our actions, our work and life.”

When asked about their emotional state, the participants provided us with impressive replies.

Which emotions did you feel during the course? Did you happen to feel delight?

All the participants (100%) gave a positive answer. They were moved by the documentary “About Love.” “This documentary was extremely emotional, thus we felt both delight and a flight of fancy.” “It was as if we were sailing through the waves of emotions, and we kept feeling shocked…”

In general, the retraining program received positive feedback: “It is interesting and informative; we acquired new and consolidated our previous knowledge.” The participants were impressed to have intensive and fruitful intercourse. However, everything related to Janusz Korczak caused the greatest admiration.

Shock? 100% of course participants said, “Yes’. What caused this shock? The story of Janusz Korczak’s life and death, the story of the Indian boy in the film “Like Stars on Earth,” video reports about Korean children and a Chinese ballet pair. “I was shocked by the atmosphere of this course; after a long break I was finally convinced that pedagogics is a very interesting field.”

Resentment? 3 participants felt resentment; one of them wrote that he was resentful against himself because he knew so little about social education…

Flight of fancy? Flight of fancy was felt by over 50% of course participants. “I wanted to change the educational sphere in class, school, and college. I wanted to make it better.”

Self-confidence? About 70% of participant felt self-confidence as a result of the course.

So, our course is coming to an end. What to expect tomorrow?

…Tomorrow I am going to tell my colleagues about the course, find people who share my views, think what can be done in my work with children, and do it!

… Tomorrow I will see my students, and they are sure to see the new me!

… I want to tell my colleagues about everything I learned and remembered here. I will try to keep being positive and enthusiastic about learning new knowledge and apply it in practice. I am going to make a thorough study of Janusz Korczak’s works.

…Tomorrow 15 mischievous and cheerful kids and 9 camp leaders from my children’s sport camp are waiting to see me again. No doubt, I will tell them about my experience here.

…I am looking forward to a new perspective to find myself. Tomorrow has the new future for me which I will see from a different angle…

I am going to read Janusz Korczak’s works and watch the film “Like Stars on Earth” one more time.


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