“There’s a miracle my friend
And it happens every day
Hold out your hand
Don’t let it slip away”
[abridged My Friend, Jacques Houdeck]
The 4th short term joint staff training event of the project I.D.E.A.! Together We Can! - Individuals with Disabilities Education Aim - took place in Zagreb, Croatia, from 10th to 16st november.
There were 28 participants - pupils, teachers, coordinators and education staff – in the meeting at OS Otona Ivekovica school to attend several training sessions and workshops concerning Croatian Educational System with focus on pupils with special needs.
The aim? To exchange ideas and experiences of professionals working with these children. Joining classes in small groups to observe teachers working with SEN pupils and forward discussion to perceive strengths and weak points of Croatian inclusive system. Participants had the opportunity to make comparisons to their own systems and also acquire knowledge through different workshops, outdoor events and plenary sessions.There was also time to learn about local heritage and national culture, therefore enhancing European citizenship and lifelong bonds among participants.
The Croatian team was tireless throughout the mobility, planned and organized all activities carefully, following the project’s agenda, gave support to partners in all moments; they were always present, escorting the group, providing immediate translation, consequently, communication being facilitated, and ensuring that everybody felt welcomed, satisfied and cherished. A team that managed to spread understanding and tolerance while improving teaching knowhow.
Partners arrival at different moments of the day.
Everyday at 8:30 a.m. the group was transported to school by bus.
Once in school, in the front outdoor entrance, younger students welcomed visitors with songs, immediately, we all tuned in: pride, friendship, innocence, happiness filled the hearts of travelers and hosts - “Inclusion of Senses” masterfully performed by groups of students.
Afterwards, it was with great emotion that each partner was surprised by angelic voices singing songs in their native languages, like the portuguese "Amar sozinho" by Salvador Sobral. The perfect awakening of senses and emotions. The foretelling of a pleasant week to come.
Around 10:00 a.m.: time for a meeting with teachers and parents in the teachers room. The first opportunity to fraternize both with project friends, croatian teachers and parents who showed interest and curiosity in knowing about us, about our countries and educational systems, as well as were willing to tell about them, about Croatia. An excellent opportunity to mingle informally and discuss their point of view on the social inclusion of their children.
Then it was time for a session on croatian system of education for pupils with disabilities
In this session it was possible to understand how the national system regulates inclusion; how teachers, assistants, pedagogists and psychologists must respond to the needs of students with learning disabilities.
Therefore, there are three types of schools in Croatia. A school that welcomes students with light difficulties, to which the Ministry may assign an assistant to accompany students in classes / activities; schools with regular classes and special classes (in small groups) for students with more moderate difficulties; thus integrating them in some regular classes, namely in the area of expressions; and finally a type of school that receives only the most serious cases and comprises only specialized education.
In our host school there were only light cases , so we were curious to know how other schools worked out.
Meanwhile, students were participating in warm up activities like meeting new friends game.
OS Otona Ivekovica School, though not a new building, had a functional and welcoming structure that we could perceive along the school visit to working classrooms.
Lunch was served in school. There wasn’t a canteen but a multipurpose space.
In the afternoon, time for sightseeing in Zagreb’s Old Town. Indeed a very beautiful city that deserved much more time to be really appreciated. We leave our thanks to our guide, teacher Ivana Mijatovic Juric who gave us the most excellent, enlightening explanations about the history of the old part of the city, highlighting some striking symbols (statues, monuments, …) and traditions in Zagreb.
At 4:00 p.m. we walked to the Museum of Illusions / Zagreb (multi senses).
A world of illusions and an unimaginable experience because whatever you see is not what it appears to be. The right spot to defy gravity, grow or shrink in a wink of an eye, get lost in a maze of mirrors or climb up to the ceiling in the Rotate Room. This was an opportunity to enjoy the biggest holographic exhibitions in this part of Europe, not to forget the optical illusions that entertain but also remind us that our perception of the world is sometimes just a perception. Amusing and awesome tricks which teach about vision, perception, the human brain and science, making it easier to perceive why your eyes things which your brain cannot understand.
Here the experiences shared together between teachers and students gave us an opportunity to observe the reactions and behaviors of students with difficulties when they face similar situations.
Tuesday morning at 9:00 there was a meeting with the school doctor Ljiljana Tiric Cihoratic; Brain Gym workshop for pupils
It was noticed that in the Croatian system there are teams consisting of a doctor and nurse who are given the responsibility of accompanying all students in a given number of schools in the city. The monitoring varies according to the age range of students, from preschool (focusing on the child's overall development) to the end of schooling. Upon entry into primary school, debriefing sessions are organized annually on various topics. When more serious cases are detected, parents and students are invited to attend the doctor's office for more specialized follow-up. The vaccination plan is made in the school.
There is a serious commitment, right from Preschool Education, in what concerns cognitive and academic education, medical and family accompaniment / clarification to respond to students’ needs in time and setting the most appropriate programs.
Afterwards, at 10:00 a.m. it was time for both Brain Gym for teachers and Day in class for pupils.
Thinking and learning does not happen only in the head. Our movements actually induce the growth of the brain. For these reasons, the Brain Gym Method was developed. The Brain Gym exercises coordination of all regions of the brain, body and mind, resulting in improvements of motor coordination, concentration, memory and reading, writing, language and mathematical skills, organization skills, logical thinking and comprehension, emotional balance, as well as a reduction of hyperactivity and tension. In this workshop, the group was able to learn and practice the ground rules of Brain Gym: learning to bring joy and make it last the whole life, cope with stress and uncertainty in facing new tasks, in sum, learn how to “unblock”.
By learning how to coordinate the left and right side of the body (laterality), the movement that coordinate the front and back part of the body (focusing), and the movements that coordinate the upper and lower part of the body (centering) , teachers will make a serious attempt to make learning a more natural and fun process for students.
A pleasant session that aroused great curiosity and willingness to implement it with our students; a unique opportunity presented by Senija Horvat, and well assisted by a proficient group of students that willingly helped the group to fulfill the assigned tasks.
At 11:00 a.m. it was time for coordinators meeting while the rest of the group attended “Day of Tolerance” workshop.
Coordinators met to work out several organizational procedures of the project: briefing of the actions that have already taken place; solving of some emerging questions; assessing goal achievements of the project; updating on follow up activities, mobilities and planning. After these meeting a report was written and sent to all coordinators and post on project’s Twinspace.
Meanwhile, in “Day of Tolerance” workshop, the goal was to write tolerance messages, a shared activity developed between students and teachers: teamwork (pairs), illustration according to a theme (House); same pencil and two hand drawing (two-handed coordination, ability to understand the aim through shared efforts, being tolerant to each other).This activity warns that in everything there is always one that dominates and another that is dominated while having value on both sides. because only with the desire to do things (in this case the work of designing a house) and respecting everyone's ideas can the goals be achieved. Applying to inclusion this idea shows that sometimes, students with difficulties are the ones who can give solutions (dominate) and in other cases they need help to reach the goal (they are dominated by their peers or adults). Finally, the group build up a totem with the works/words achieved, to be exhibited in the school entrance hall as dissemination of the final messages.
After lunch, the group visited the Typhlological Museum.
A museum that includes objects from the field of education, rehabilitation and everyday life of disabled persons, especially of the visually impaired: books in Braille, teaching aids, writing aids, including tablets for manual writing, machines and modern tools for writing in Braille as well as objects of everyday use. Besides, we were able to observe paintings and sculptures made by self-educated blind sculptors among other; ophthalmological and optic devices and aids for diagnostics from late 19th and early 20th centuries; an insight into photographs from everyday life of visually impaired people and a collection of publications in relief alphabets.
Lastly, we visited OS Dugave School to observe small groups of pupils with disabilities being included in regular school.
We were greeted with a very pleasant Christmas performance by students of various difficulties.
They told us about a project which they develop using oils for aesthetic and medicinal purposes. Another very interesting project was being developed by a visually impaired history teacher who invites all students to play chess - a game in which, according to him, some differences between students fade away, as his own example.
This is a school that, as mentioned earlier, has regular classes and small special classes for developing more functional tasks. Sometimes students are integrated in the regular classes and in many internal, municipal and even national projects, all working in an inclusive manner.
A school concerned about tolerance, the ideal working atmosphere, collaboration and teamwork; that fosters the acquisition of skills and competences for lifelong learning, giving individual opportunities to each student; a school where inclusion could be felt.
In the end, a meal with a snack was provided, giving us the opportunity to talk to each other informally and clarify some issues.
Dinner was served in “Public”, a nice restaurant to eat some local delicacies.
After a good night’s rest in the comfortable and fancy hotel Jägerhorn, day 3 starts with a visit to OS Nad Lipom - a regular school for pupils with disabilities - includes primary education for students with minor and severe intellectual and other associated developmental disabilities, vocational training, extended professional procedure, rehabilitation programs, preventative health care, extracurricular activities - cultural and public. When visiting the school, one couldn’t miss the impact of the artwork on the walls and its humanitarian value. It had several facilities and equipment that allow students with intellectual and other disabilities to be taught using modern methods.
Then, we went to visit Suvag - a center for pupils with hearing disabilities
The reception meeting was held by the Director of the SUVAG Polyclinic Pavic Dokoza, doc.dr.sc., who introduced us to the clinic's work, including diagnostics and rehabilitation centers and sections. After that, there was a visit to SUVAG's kindergarten, medical rehabilitation sections for children of preschool and school age patients, motion and music stimulation, individual rehabilitation, and, the possibility to attend for brief moments, rehabilitation-educational activities in groups of children with hearing impairment, mathematics and english classes.
After lunch in school, time for Labyrinth Game for pupils and teachers. Monitoring of presentation and game led by senior pupils for students and staff in mobility had focus on the possibility of having pupils as mentors to other pupils.
Again, another example of this mobility’s special focus on senses and sensorial thinking.
At 4:00 p.m., DIS Association introduced a mindfulness workshop (for teachers); at the same time pupils enjoyed a music workshop.
Mindfulness and the five senses: mindful attention helps us to consciously switch off the autopilot and connect with our immediate experience, our bodily sensations and our five senses.In addition to our senses being the support for working with attention, they are also the gateway to what we could call the “being mode” - meaning, an open door to notice more, be more flexible, have more choices that we would not notice when we are in the narrow “doing mode” (always thinking, planning, performing, solving, evaluating, judging, anticipating …). This workshop represented an opportunity to experience an alternative technique to find stress reduction, regulation of emotions, self-awareness and healthier relationship to self and others. It’s up to each of us to decide to mindful or not!
It was a really interesting experience. We have all heard of this technique, but experiencing it was indeed a very intense moment. Our daily life, full of tasks, noise and interactions is a stressor, making our interpersonal relationships difficult. The session was very well presented, in a very calm tone and in a very serene mood.
Sunrise at 5:00 a.m and on the road to SPLIT!
Split is the second-largest city of Croatia and the largest city of the region of Dalmatia, with about 250,000 people living in its urban area. It lies on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea and is spread over a central peninsula and its surroundings.
After arrival, a visit to the Museum of Senses. Once more a museum dedicated to exploring our main senses - sight, hearing, smell, touch and balance. Created by young Croatian artists, designers and architects, a unique moment to experience sensations, solve puzzles and mysteries by using the five senses.
At 2:00 p.m.sightseeing in Split’s Old Town: again a guided tour and time travel into history, an opportunity to learn about the country’s heritage and be delighted by the charm, secretness and timelessness of Split. Unfortunately, there was very little time to stroll in the old part of this beautiful city.
At 6:00 p.m. dinner at Ballet School Kastela restaurant. A moment to regale upon croatian cuisine: delicious fresh fish and seafood! Absolutely delicious!!
Last [day] but not the least.
At 10:00 a.m. meeting with local authorities in Zagreb’s Town Hall. Representatives welcomed the group and portrayed the main council actions and programmes on education and inclusion of SEN students. A very concise amount of information which completed, or somehow step up to the one given previously in schools.
The meeting ended with the exchange of souvenirs given by partners in representation of their countries and Zagreb’s council representative. Pleasant smiles to end up a meaningful moment in project’s dissemination and recognition.
By 11:30 a.m. the meeting and visit to ERF - Faculty of Education and Rehabilitation Sciences - a space of higher education with the particularity of promoting theoretical teaching in conjunction with regular pedagogical practice, in the country's rehabilitation centers, regular schools and in its own clinical valence. A well equipped faculty that blends teaching and learning with practice and direct contact with inclusiveness.
Meanwhile, pupils visited the oldest ZOO in Croatia, it consists of more than 370 animal species and more than 8000 individuals from almost all continents. They walked along the Zoo on a guided tour that allowed them to learn, or review, Science Syllabus. The aim of the educational program in Zoos is to introduce, in person, pupils to the rich and diverse world of animals. At the same time, an opportunity for pupils and teachers to wander within Maksimir Park in Autumn - yellow, brown and reddish leaves all around, cold breaths, warm clothes, happy smiles and loud giggles! Spending time learning in nature, in contact with
animals and plants highlights the terapeutical side of outdoor learning.
Maksimir Park, which surrounds the Zoo area, is simply wonderful. The woods and lakes in Zagreb must be visited as they should, for sure… but perhaps at a later time.
From 3:00 p.m. onwards sightseeing in Zagreb’s DownTown: a moment to relax on one’s own, have some free time to buy souvenirs or just enjoy a cup of hot chocolate, or a beer, in one of the many terraces scattered around Zagreb.
Sadly we had to say goodbye. So, around 7:00 p.m. the farewell dinner took place at “Purger” Restaurant.
A very pleasant dinner, in a cosy traditional restaurant, moment to share impressions, to laugh, to sing and dance at the rhythm of songs from each participating country, once again, emotions, sensations and senses were crying out for more time together!
At different schedules every single group went home.It was raining but as a coordinator wisely said ... Zagreb is crying for us! Crying joyfully, of course, drops that blessed this stay and forthcome Portugal in March!
“I pray you’ll see
The light and find your way
La forza del destino che è in te
Do your best, take a chance
Dare to dream and make it real
Segui la verità via della libertà
My friend, my friend
My friend, my friend
[abridged My Friend, Jacques Houdeck]