Natalya Nyshta (number 3 from the left) with some members of her staff

Uniting forces for a more democratic school

When Natalya Nyshta started her new job as headmaster at school No 69 in Lviv, Ukraine, she was determined to change the school climate, but encountered resistance among teachers and little interest from parents.

The school is located in a former industrial area of Lviv, which is slowly turning into a residential area after the closure of the main plant two years ago. Middle class parents in the neighbourhood used to prefer to send their kids to a private school if they could afford it.

On her first visit to the rundown school building, Natalya almost lost her courage. She went back to the school authorities and said she had reconsidered. This was not a job for her. After some persuasion, however, she decided she would take on the challenge.

Four years have passed since then and a lot has changed. Classrooms have been painted and the building is slowly being renovated. The number of students is increasing. However, these improvements did not come by themselves. Older teachers were reluctant to accept the headmaster’s initiatives and innovations.

The European Wergeland Centre

“In the beginning it was my impression that only Natalia was interested in changes, Schools for Democracy trainer Andriy Zaluzhnyi says, recounting his first impressions at the school.

“During our first meeting, some teachers had a strange look in their eyes and seemed to ask themselves: Why are we here?

Co-trainer Yaryna Sukhetska concurs:

“Natalia was eager to do everything, but she was alone and doing everything herself. Today she is coordinating. You can see that it is team work and you feel the new school culture”.

Andriy adds that he considers Natalya a good practice in her own right:

“One person can change many things. The big achievement of the Schools for Democracy programme at this school is that it has brought together different people with different perspectives. Now we can talk about a team”.

Natalya Nyshta recalls the baseline assessment they did of the school partly with horror, but also with gratitude.

“Our first meeting almost seemed like a trial before a court, but it was true that I was doing too many thing by myself. A hard evaluation helps. I tried to mobilize before but now with the mandate of the programme, it is easier”, she says and believes that the teachers have changed their attitudes because of the programme.

This in turn has helped mobilize the parents.

“I can’t talk to every parent, but the teachers can and now they send a different message to parents than they did before”.

The European Wergeland Centre

The children at the school have changed too.

When someone painted graffiti on the walls, she talked directly to the tenth graders.

“We looked at solutions together and solved the problem”.

“Sometimes it is even easier to talk to the children than the parents. We look at the problems and how to solve them together. This works a lot better than if you just tell them about your decisions”, Natalya says.

The children at the school have their own ideas. For example, they have started projects to collect paper and batteries for recycling.

“I believe that they have developed important soft skills. When they design projects, they want more realistic things than before and they consider different ways to realize them. Of course, they want entertainment as well, so we also have to listen to them when they want to organize things like Halloween and pajama parties. But they are realistic, they don’t ask for crazy things”, Natalya says and concludes:

“For me it is important that the children feel happy. That they don’t feel fear or pressure. And it is important that the parents respect our school.”

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