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Let us introduce you to ‘eTwinning Schools’! An interview with our pedagogical manager Anne Gilleran

What is an eTwinning School? Why now, and why should you apply? In the following conversation, Anne Gilleran will present and explain the concept of the eTwinning School.

In 2014 a large-scale survey of eTwinning teachers was undertaken. One of the main outcomes was that whilst teachers noticed a great impact on their own confidence and practice as a result of taking part in an eTwinning project, this did not always lead to a wider impact in their school as a whole. It was clear from teachers’ replies, that the management set-up of the school played an important role in the extent to which they were able to share eTwinning practices with colleagues, or implement them further in their daily practice. It also stated that

“eTwinning’s mission for its next stage of evolvement should therefore be to ensure that it plays a crucial role in not only contributing to individual teachers’ professional development, but to also making a school as a whole more innovative in its teaching and learning practices, regardless of its starting point.”[1]

In 2015 the eTwinning Pedagogical Advisory Team (a group of experts who reflect on the development of eTwinning) took these findings as a basis for examining the question of how to move the focus of eTwinning from the individual teacher to involving a team within a school; especially those involved in school management and school leaders. This would be with the hope of ‘injecting innovative organizational practices to facilitate the mainstreaming of successful new ways of teaching and learning, developed through eTwinning projects and the action’s related professional development activities’[2]. Thus the idea of the title of 'eTwinning School' came about.

We asked Anne some questions and we are happy to share her answers with you below!

1. How do you think that ‘eTwinning Schools’ will help to engage more schools with eTwinning?

The focus of the eTwinning School is not necessarily to increase the number of schools engaging in eTwinning, but rather to focus on rewarding the schools who are already performing great work, with many teachers and a positive atmosphere which supports the development of eTwinning within the school. Up to now the focus of rewards in eTwinning have been for individual teachers in the form of prizes and Quality labels at National and European level. The idea of the eTwinning School title is to widen the recognition from the individual eTwinner to the schools who have active eTwinning teams, who promote active engagement in eTwinning among their teachers and who support that engagement.

2. What are the most common constraints that schools across countries are facing, preventing them from gaining maximum benefit from eTwinning?

This is a very broad question. I think that in many instances successful eTwinning activities in a school rely on the dedication of one highly committed and hardworking teacher, who, as was highlighted in the survey mentioned above, often feels unsupported and isolated. The most common reason for this is that, very often, the school principal does not understand what eTwinning is about and how it can be used in an efficacious way to promote new practices and skills more relevant to a 21st century approach to teaching and learning. The eTwinning School title, when it is awarded, will lead to a number of schools who may be taken as examples for others, whose teachers and school principals may become a resource for those other schools struggling with changing away from a very traditional approach to teaching, to something more engaging and collaborative.

3. According to the monitoring report of 2015, most of the teachers participating in eTwinning come from ‘innovative schools’[3]. How do you hope that the ‘eTwinning School’ can also spread innovation to less innovative schools or teachers who work in less favourable school environments?

You must be careful when using this term innovative schools, as there is no commonly agreed definition of the term. In the context of the report it means schools that promote involvement in innovative practices, promote collaboration among teachers, actively participate in international projects, and engaged in self-evaluation. So, to answer the question, I hope that these schools will become a mentoring resource for other schools in the wider eTwinning Community. That the school principals and management figures in these eTwinning schools will explain their policies and practice to their peers in the annual conference for example, in specially dedicated conferences for school leaders, in forums, workshops and at every available opportunity.

4. The ‘eTwinning School’ was, in fact, originally considered as a focus for eTwinning back in 2006. Why has it taken so long, and why now? What has changed?

This is true. In 2006 there was a lot of focus on what was then termed as a ‘whole school approach’ to eTwinning. However, in 2006 there were only about 10000 – 12000 teachers involved in what was a very new activity where the main focus was on school project work. The concept of eTwinning as a community for schools had not yet emerged. It has taken 12 years for eTwinning to mature to the community we know today. During those 12 years we have reached a critical mass of teachers and schools who do amazing work with their pupils in those areas I have already mentioned; promoting innovative practices with and without technology; promoting the principles of project based learning; collaboration and team work. These are teachers and schools who can and do influence their peers to follow their example. This is what has changed and this is why the time for introducing the eTwinning School title is so appropriate now in this first quarter of this 21st Century. 

5. What’s next? Could parents become the focus of future eTwinning projects?

An interesting question! I would first like to consolidate this move first, to establish the eTwinning School, and to have its recipients become an influential and positive force for promoting the values of eTwinning of openness and inter cultural understanding. This is particularly relevant today in our troubled world. Parents in a sense are already a focus in this eTwinning School movement, as one of the criteria for obtaining the title of eTwinning school is whether the school has actively promoted eTwinning amongst parents and the local community.

1. eTwinning 10 years on, p. 49

2. eTwinning 10 years on, p. 51

3. Schools that are involved in innovative practices, promote collaboration among teachers, actively participate in international projects, and are engaged in self-evaluation