OID: E10040387
PIC: 937306636

Natural Born Teachers. Article written by the portugues partner about the project

Agrupamento de Escolas Elias Garcia (AEEG) is situated in Sobreda, Almada, Portugal, in the south bank of Lisbon, our capital city. We are a group of 3 schools, (1) a kindergarten, with 6 pre-school groups; (2) a basic school with 2 pre-school groups and 10 classes from the 1st to the 4th grade (students aged 6 to 10 years old); (3) and the head school, EB Elias Garcia, with 11 classes from the 1st to the 4th grade, 12 classes from the 5th and 6th grades (students aged 10 to 12 years old) and 18 classes from the 7th to the 9th grade (students aged 12 to 15 years old).

AEEG  aims to be a school that promotes a daily school life based on permanent practices of active citizenship, supported by a culture of respect and acceptance of others and their differences, with demand and responsibility. The overall goal of AEEG is to be a school of knowledge, open to creativity, arts and cultures, simultaneously promoting sustainable environmental behaviors. We can say that we are a bilingual school that tries to promote the acquisition of fundamental tools for the educational success of its students.  

To achieve these goals we have been involved in various Erasmus+ projects, some of them connected with outdoor learning, one of the topics of the Natural Born Teachers project and we are part of the Eco-Schools programme for many years now. In the last school years we have also been developing several projects within our schools in the framework of the methodologies supported by the Natural Born Teachers project, namely: Discover your magic; Include yourself; Health promotion and education; Story Telling, among others. Some years ago we created the figure of the Health Ambassadors. The representatives of each class, from the 1st to the 9th grade, meet once every three months to talk about health issues at school, to share good practices and to plan activities. 

Especially since the pandemic period we have been watching an increase of emotional dysregulation and anxiety both in students and in teachers. So, the Natural Born Teachers project arose as an opportunity to develop and to increase good practices that could help our teachers and our students in this field, allowing at the same time teachers to work and exchange ideas and experiences with foreign partners from other European countries.  Recent literature and research confirm that mental health and climate health are connected, and require that “we upgrade our emotional intelligence as much as our awareness and dedication to sustainability and nature protection.” (in https://associazionejump.it/project/natural-born-teachers/ )

When planning The Natural Born Teachers project we combined Outdoor Learning and Mindfulness techniques which seemed perfect for our school. According to the Institute for Outdoor Learning, this approach “covers the acquisition or refinement of specific knowledge and skills as well as the sometimes the more subtle changes in behaviors and attitudes that can lead to increased health and wellbeing, and environmental awareness”(https://www.outdoor-learning.org/).  “Being outdoors, with the space to be active and explore your surroundings, is a crucial part of development in childhood and key to good health and wellbeing. The benefits of outdoor learning are the same for everyone, regardless of age, through engaging our senses and allowing hands-on learning opportunities that cannot be simulated in a classroom environment. Outdoor learning exposes children to new experiences, which can help them gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the world around them. Also: is a great way to support the development of key skills, such as problem-solving, resilience, confidence, patience and independence, can easily facilitate teamwork activities, which develops key communication and social skills, such as turn-taking and listening to others and it helps alleviate boredom by offering a break from the restrictive classroom environment.” (https://www.twinkl.pt/teaching-wiki/outdoor-learning).

Mindfulness techniques involve practicing meditation and other activities that can help improve attention and concentration  as well as the ability to deal with stress. In a school environment, these techniques/ methodologies can have a significant impact on the lives of students and teachers alike. They can embody  numerous benefits, such as: reduction of  the levels of stress, and improvement of concentration, emotional self-regulation and the quality of interpersonal relationships.  

The Natural Born Teachers project, according to the Portuguese teachers involved in its implementation, “was a memorable educational and introspective journey, marked by the sharing of knowledge and inspiring collaboration among the participants. There was an opportunity to benefit from moments/sessions of “mindfulness,” where mental practice and meditation were important for becoming aware of our “self” and for reflecting through the practice of mindfulness and conscious breathing exercises.” The activities that “involved physical activities, contributed to an active and healthy lifestyle. The direct contact with nature offered a variety of sensory stimuli, such as textures, colors, sounds, and aromas, promoting the sensory and cognitive development of all participants”.

The Natural Born Teachers project gave the “opportunity to learn from each other and the contribution to our common profession was a key aspect of our time together”. It also “brought a wealth of new perspectives and insights”. “The exchange of ideas with teachers and educators from different countries expanded the understanding of teaching methodologies, especially regarding the multiple approaches at this level, educational practices, and their relationship with cultural diversity, i.e., how culture influences these practices. It was essential to reflect on our similar challenges”.

At last but not least, it was a “great opportunity to become a better teacher”. It facilitated teamwork activities for those who participated in the various training sessions and gave teachers and students the needed awareness to enhance their own  health and wellbeing as well as being more environment-friendly.

Due to the lesson plans created, shared and applied with the students, along with the dissemination sessions and the conferences held as well as with the toolkit produced by the teachers, the NBT Project was spread to the majority of the teachers  in each participant school and beyond, in many other European schools and countries. 

For all these reasons we have to say that the Natural Born Teachers project was a great opportunity for our school and for the teachers involved to learn from our partners and to share the knowledge and the educational practices we have been implementing. But it was also an opportunity, on the one hand, to share doubts and anxieties and, on the other hand, to try to find solutions together.

Now that we are coming to an end we feel richer and more confident, because we have collaboratively, with teachers from other countries in Europe, produced knowledge and resources that can help our school communities and others.

Francisca Soares & Teresa Vieira – teachers of the portuguese school and partner “Agrupamento de Escolas Elias Garcia”