Five insights into running an Erasmus+ project
The first insight is about unity among Europeans and how Erasmus+ projects help to build it in a concerted action.
The majority of those who have a taste for transnational collaboration will probably agree that it feeds their professional curiosity and builds bridges between like-minded teachers. The same is true for Tartu Tamme Gümnaasium. We carried out our first staff mobility project in 2014, with only three teachers participating. Still, six years and four projects later, we find ourselves coordinating yet another strategic partnership, which already involves nearly 100 participants. It is a ‘smart’ language project that revolves around European values and aims to teach the language with film and content with language. Not only have five partner schools come together to pursue their stated objectives. But they have also joined forces to help their students and teachers grow as European citizens.
The second insight takes us to the priorities of the Erasmus+ programme and their role in project activities.
Relatively rigid at first view, those priorities can be adopted with divergent thinking. For example, we take “Open education and innovative practices in a digital era” and turn it into the Six-T’s Approach to Content-Based Instruction. We take “Promoting a comprehensive approach to language teaching and learning” and interpret it as soft CLIL. And we regard “ICT ‒ new technologies ‒ digital competencies” as blended learning.
The third insight allows us to discuss the impact that Erasmus+ mobility flows have on participants.
Indeed, most students (and many teachers) join Erasmus+ projects because of free travel, language practice and new contacts. Some soon discover that travelling is hard and project activities are too demanding. Others rely on flexibility and good humour. Thinking outside one’s cultural space comes in handy, too. In the end, what matters most is a sense of accomplishment. Students feel it because project work makes them grow in multiple ways: intercultural awareness, language skills, or transnational teamwork. Teachers feel it because project work enables them to better balance demanding high and stepping aside. Mobility flows are at the core of any Erasmus+ project. They inspire teachers and students alike, and they certainly add a European dimension to the partner schools’ development activities.
The fourth insight looks into European youth and how wonderful it is for them to make things happen with their peers.
For instance, during our first exchange, we could do nothing but admire how good our students were at reading the screen while discussing their film reviews. Also, we were able to take pride in seeing our young Estonians, Belgians, Danes, Germans and Spaniards debating for and against a given motion in English ‒ a foreign language to them all. With ample practice, everyone had a chance to become a more eloquent debater and a more confident English speaker. All in all, fond memories of other cultures, beautiful places, and making new friends are often mentioned in students’ reflection papers. So is personal growth, along with a multifaceted learning experience. What else can we wish for?
Finally, the fifth insight puts teachers in the limelight, for without them, Erasmus+ school projects would not stand a chance.
When teachers feel they have a say in meaningful questions, a contribution is easy to come. When teachers know that they are not alone with their concerns, inspiration is quick to come. Teacher motivation matters because peer learning, sharing experiences and working on a common goal fosters collegial solidarity. So does teacher autonomy. Knowing that one can choose their own path will make teachers more than willing to transfer their new knowledge and skills back to their daily practices. Making teachers’ voices heard will help everyone enjoy the art of teaching utmost, and that seems to be the very point of running an Erasmus+ project, at least for us.