Lyceum director Tatyana Vorobyova on perfect teachers and eSchools

Lyceum director Tatyana Vorobyova on perfect teachers and eSchools
Which direction should the school choose, how should they help children choose their future profession and what makes a perfect teacher – the answer to all these questions can be found in the interview with Tatyana Vorobyova, head of Lyceum No. 1535.

Ribbons hanging in the school yard, certificates and messages for the future generation behind glass and reproductions of paintings by Claude Monet, Albrecht Durer, Amedeo Modigliani and Leonardo da Vinci on the walls inside. This is Lyceum No. 1535, which ranked second in the rating of the best Moscow schools. Tatyana Vorobyova, the principal of the Lyceum, told the reporter about the development of top-rated schools, helping children to choose their future profession and convincing parents not to decide the future of their children for them.

Tatyana Vorobyova, principal of the Lyceum No. 1535

— Lyceum No. 1535 has been number one in the Moscow school ratings six times now. How did you manage to achieve such results?

— First and foremost, the credit for this should go to our teachers, pupils and their parents. Our teachers are very experienced, interesting and creative as well as this we have wonderful pupils and their parents’ support. Of course this is the right direction for a development strategy to go of an educational establishment. This combination brings good results.

Currently we are holding the second place in the rating, but we are still very happy with our results. We have improved in every way.

What was it that helped your school to be ranked second in the rating of best Moscow schools, what development direction are you going in?

We are developing as a multidisciplinary lyceum, which means that we give children an opportunity to choose their own educational profile and pre-professional training, which corresponds to their desires, skills and interests. It is very important for us. In every educational profile recognised by the State Educational Standard we have a subprofile, which means that there is a differentiation by subprofiles. Every pupil can find something he or she is interested in, so practically everyone can continue studying in our lyceum after the 9th form.

We always take interests of children and their parents into account when developing educational profiles

Humanitarian profiles are represented by two subprofiles, historical and philological and social plus humanitarian, which prepare children for law schools. We also have a social and humanitarian class with the in-depth study of mathematics. It was formed upon the children’s request. We always take the interests and requests of the children as well as their parents into account when it comes to developing new educational profiles.

We have had social and economic profiles from the very beginning. The lyceum has been cooperating with the Higher School of Economics and the Lomonosov Moscow State University for many years now. Most of the pupils from our social and economic classes enter one of these two places after graduation.

The science profile includes medical and biological and psychological subprofiles. These classes participate in the Medical Class in the Moscow School project. Last year our lyceum ranked first among schools participating in the project, and the success is well-deserved as we have main programmes, additional programmes, plus extracurricular activities. Together with the Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University we conduct lectures, regularly conduct tests, and take part in conferences. We also hold our own Ecology and Human Health research and practical conference, which is attended by participants from the Moscow Region, Penza, Bryansk and Kaluga. Our science profile graduates go to the Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University.

The technological profile is represented by the physics and mathematics subprofile and the information technology subprofile. Graduates of the physics and mathematics subprofile go to the best Moscow universities namely the Lomonosov Moscow State University, the Bauman Moscow State Technical University, the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT). They show that they are highly competitive. During this academic year we will have pupils for the first time graduating from our new information technology subprofile class.

Moreover, this year for the first time ever we have two classes with in-depth study of mathematics, which will prepare children for studying physics and mathematics or IT subprofiles. The eighth form is participating in an interesting project launched by a large IT company. The project received the support of Moscow’s Department of Education. The company thoroughly tested schools and teachers willing to participate, and both of our IT teachers passed all the necessary tests. This project will help our children to become more prepared for studying in the tenth form. This is also very important for us as the preparations will help us before entering the Moscow School Engineering Class project.

What will participating in this project give the lyceum?

An opportunity to take part in various interesting additional events – Olympiads and conferences. Graduates of our engineering classes will get the training necessary for their profession, which is important, because starting this year students have to pass a pre-profession training exam. Moreover, schools participating in the project get new equipment that will be necessary for training pupils in these profile classes.

School must help children to choose their future professions

What are the advantages of a profile education?

Schools must help the children to choose their future profession, and profile classes give them a chance to prepare for the future education in the chosen field and to understand if it is their vocation or not.

If the profile area does not suit someone can they change their path?

Of course. And it is better that a child does this during school years rather than later at university. The best time to do this is say during the third, fourth or fifth further education year.

Do children often change their profiles?

Tatyana Vorobyova: I think about 15–20 per year. We allow it on one condition: you have to pass an exam on subjects that differ in the programmes of various profiles. Everyone has advanced Russian and English language classes, so there is no difficulty there, but maths, history, economics, and law are different. It is very difficult to change for the medicine profile as a main subject, but it happens, too.

Can parents influence the choice of the main subject?

When children choose it during their ninth year, parents’ influence is, of course, very strong, but our psychological consultations in eighth and ninth years exist to help children make their choices more or less independently.

Were there any cases when you had to talk parents around?

Of course, because there are dynasties, and a child is interested in another field but is pressured by the fact that he or she has to continue the family business. It is always very complicated, but most times we manage to sway parents’ opinions, because we usually have trust-based relations with them.

This year, the Parents’ Council has organised the Interesting Meetings Club for eight- and nine-graders, because very often children do not see their parents as experts, so they come and present their work, and their business. Parents are willing to participate. We have a list for the next meetings.

Our task is to create the favourable conditions for children to discover all their talents

Do parents need to participate in school self-management actively?

Of course. If we don’t unite our efforts, everyone will want to have their own way, and children will be the ones to suffer most. Our task is to unite our forces, to create favourable conditions for children to discover all their talents. We believe there are no children without a talent, it is the issue of whether it’s developed or not. So, our task, mine and the parents is to understand what the child’s talent is and put all our efforts into developing it.

So it is necessary to give children opportunities so they can try out different spheres?

Yes, and the range should be wide for children to learn how to make the right choice. And for that, we have to make sure they have plenty to choose from. It is important for us that they choose our school in the first place.

Do you have a big contest?

This year, we admitted 320 pupils, 313 graduated and we admitted 320, and we had 1,758 applications although we stopped taking applications.

Children’s demands and interests are so serious that teachers have to always keep up with the times

It is not surprising for one of the top-three schools in Moscow. Is it difficult to comply with the title?

It is. Every time we have to offer something new, because as soon as you stop developing, you won’t even notice someone outsmarting you and it won’t be interesting for you yourself either. It is necessary to advance, because education in Moscow is developing so rapidly.

You shouldn’t think that you are the ultimate truth possessor that you know everything and can do everything and you don’t have to learn. Our teachers always are self-educating themselves, always improving their qualifications and attending training courses, because they feel that it is needed, and children’s demands and interests are so serious that teachers have to always keep up with the times.

Is the teachers’ selection strict?

Of course. It includes meetings in methodic centres, and our English teachers present themselves at a meeting, and sometimes we ask them to give a demonstration lesson.

An ideal teacher must have an urge to communicate with children and appeal to children

What is an ideal teacher like?

—Well-versed and in love with his or her subject. This is a person ready for creative work and constant self-improvement, who is interested in children: a person who must not simply love children but have an urge to communicate with them and appeal to children whether in or outside the classroom. This is what we call a “charismatic personality.”

Life in the lyceum does not come to a standstill after the lessons are over. Quite often, in most classrooms, if you drop in, you will see that some discussions and conversations are going on there. I am not speaking about extra curricula education. Simply, some problem has come up, which one wants to discuss. And a teacher at the lyceum must be ready for this and must encourage the children to do this.

What comes first for the principal of a good school – being a pedagogue or an effective manager?

—This is open to dispute. I believe that success lies in combining both. A mere manager is not a good head for an educational institution, the way I see it. He or she must be an authoritative pedagogue. A school principal must not only succeed as a teacher but be aware of the administrative tasks that need to be addressed. It would be ideal to work as a deputy principal at first before taking over as the head of an educational institution.

What does the first or second position in the rating bring except prestige?

—This has a monetary equivalent as, after all, we are laureates of a first-degree grant. This amounts to 15 million roubles. The school receives the grant and is free to decide how to spend it – whether to stimulate the staff or fund development programmes. We decided that this year we will use the money to stimulate our pedagogical staff throughout the entire year.

What’s more, we have far greater freedom in matters regarding the attestation of our teachers’ work. We may decide on our own whether a teacher deserves the first or highest category. In other words, the city commission accepts our proposals without debates. 

One of the rating’s criteria is to provide quality mass education. How do your pupils pass exams?

—Eighty-one of our graduates were awarded Moscow medals “For Outstanding Success in Studies”, 58 graduated with honours and have ministerial medals. Besides this, we have 10 winners and 26 laureates of the final stage of the National School Olympiad.

Do you take part in World Skills championships?

—We tried ourselves in landscape design first and came third. We will see. Perhaps, we will send chemists too.

You say that a top school must always come up with something fresh. What new thing will the lyceum propose for this academic year?

—We have a joint project with a major IT company. This concerns the further development of our information technology profile. Another interesting project is in the social sciences and humanities in cooperation with the Prosecutor’s Office of Moscow’s Central Area. It, too, has to do with pre-profession training.

Often, a child says: “I want to enter the law faculty.” But what will you do, what career do you want to make, do you imagine precisely what your job will consist of after you graduate from the law faculty? Let us see. We cooperate with the Prosecutor’s Office, the Investigative Committee, the district policy authority, the court and, of course, the Moscow City Duma. Our pupils have an opportunity to meet those who work there, people on the ground. This is very important. So far, this has not yet shaped into a cooperation agreement of the kind we have with the First Gradskaya Hospital or Rostelecom. What’s important is that our school cooperates not just with universities but with enterprises as well. This is a common trend in the Moscow education system: a school – a university – and an enterprise by all means, so that pupils could really imagine their future profession. 

The aim of profile-oriented education is to teach skills that will be useful for a future job

So in the end schools will help prepare youngsters for life?

— The aim of profile-oriented instruction is to give pre-professional skills that children could later use while training for their future job.

Next year the Lyceum will be linked to the eSchool system in Moscow. What do you expect from this? What will change for the teachers and pupils?

—We are already connecting this year but next year the system will be fully up and running. This is expected to streamline the education process in a certain way. It is not done on the principle of “technology for technology’s sake” but for obtaining better results with less effort. This is the point of adopting informational technology.

This is why we have developed the eSchool platform in the city which contains electronic textbooks, encyclopaedias and lessons that are jointly compiled and can be used by everybody. We pool resources on one platform and start sharing them with each other. There is no need for anyone to have to reinvent the wheel, maybe certain things have already been done or done differently. I believe that this is very important.

No one says that you take a ready-made script and give a lesson with clockwork precision, but you have the basis that you can shape how you want. This is convenient and saves a teacher’s time when they can take advantage of experience from a fellow teacher. This is a good idea.

In addition to all this, pupils can reconstruct a skipped lesson to a significant extent. This is also handy.

The eSchools in Moscow means speaking the language of those being taught

This kind of project is going to make the educational life for a pupil more interesting then?

—I think so because one can hardly imagine today’s youngsters without electronic devices. This will bring school life ever closer to the pupils but it means speaking their own kind of language. We are already using informational technology, such as interactive whiteboards, multimedia projectors and screens. It is impossible to imagine a lesson without them.

Still, we believe that all this cannot replace an actual teacher who plays a key role.

A wide range of users will be allowed to download information: school pupils and university students plus IT companies. What do you think about it? Is the platform going to turn into a Wikipedia?

—Why not? There are several versions: access to information can be opened only by you yourself, by your school, and if such information is to become publicly available it will be thoroughly checked by experts first of all.

It is interesting work. Writing this kind of educational information boosts a teacher’s skills and encourages them to develop. For school administrative teams it is not only important to provide the right environment for pupils but for teachers as well. They should also be interested in what they are doing, continuously pressing forward and seeing prospects for getting better.

I hope that the national system for teachers being developed by the Ministry will be adopted in the end. Serious work has been carried out for several years with the participation of many experienced teachers and head teachers.

The city has an important task of making sure every school provides quality education

What are the changes you like best of the Moscow education system?

— The Moscow Government, as well as the Department of Education, has an important task which is to make sure every Moscow school provides quality education. It is a really remarkable goal. It is not always easy, sometimes it is done by trial and error, but the vector is good. Also, lots of money is invested in education in Moscow, which is not the case in the regions.

I believe that our goal is good and we have all been working to fulfill it. Look how our Moscow Municipal Pedagogic University has developed, because essentially every school reform begins with a teacher who must be trained, so lots is being done to reform pedagogical education. Young teachers come to work at our school, and we are especially happy if it is our graduates that are returning back to us.

We are glad to see that vocational education is being revived due to the Department of Education creating the project Professional Environment which helped to popularise it. The material base of the capital colleges is very good now, and their prestige has been raised. This is very important, because children should have a choice concerning the way they will get their education as well as the fact that they should know that it is not necessary to go to university after eleven years at school. There are many options when it comes to finding a profession. The main thing is to find out about yourself and then understand what you want to do.

How do you see Moscow schools in the future, say in five years?

—I would like the technological revolution project to be completed, so that everything planned would be implemented. I want all Moscow schools to have more young and interesting teachers.

And also, I’d like each school not to be a separate item, to have partners to solve educational issues together. Universities have already realised how important it is to cooperate with schools: look at the magnificent University Saturdays we have been having.

I would like the city to become a unified educational space in five years

I want to see as many Moscow institutions and organisations as possible understand that to bring up and educate the next generation is their task too, because they are the people that will be working with us tomorrow. And if these Moscow institutions and organisations don’t start working with the schools now, it is probable that sometime in the future they will find that there aren’t enough qualified specialists. The cutting-edge institutions have already understood this, so they are already coming to the schools. I would like to very much see that it’s the norm in five years from now that the city becomes a unified educational space.