What differentiates Helping Schools Succeed from other projects?
Ours is a long-term project; we closely cooperate with each project school for at least five years. We try to adjust the start up curve of project activities to the absorption capacity of the various schools and their teachers. When practice shows that something does not work the way we had envisaged, we can respond flexibly. We encourage schools to be autonomous, and trust in the teachers’ inner motivation and ability to decide responsibly and independently. In effect, teachers decide on matters that concern them, but are not alone in this. We give them expert support where they ask for it.

How can a school join the project?
The easiest way to keep in touch with the project and gain access to new developments is by filling out the contact form in the ‘I want to join’ section. More details on how to join can be found in the Cooperation with the project section.

Can any schools other than public and two-stage schools join the project? For example, composite class schools, religious schools, etc.?
In the five-year project scheme, we only really work with public two-stage elementary schools (you can find the other principal criteria that project schools are expected to meet here). Cooperation with other schools is possible in other areas (for more details see Other forms of cooperation with the project). We are happy when schools that endorse our project ideas stay in touch with us. Sharing experience and inspiration enriches everyone!

Is it possible to apply to the project for a one-off grant (e.g., for a school library or teaching assistant) for an elementary school outside the project?
Unfortunately, the project’s financial model and long-term strategy do not allow for providing ad hoc grants to any schools other than those within the project. 

What is expected from the teachers participating in the project?
For a school to be included in the project, it is crucial that teachers internally identify with the project goals and principles and are willing to learn and improve. We expect them to be determined to set themselves ambitious yet realistic goals, self-confident enough to go their own ways, and able to accept the associated uncertainty. They should be willing to share experience with their colleagues in their own and in other schools.

How demanding is the project for teachers in terms of time and paperwork? 
The project is intended to result in a substantial development of the school, which per se entails more work and time spent preparing for teaching. Our experience is, however, that the teachers we support are willing to put in more work, because the project helps them progress in their professional development and yields results in student learning. Teachers also regularly evaluate how they fulfill the school development plan and their own personal development plans. For project and school management, it is important to see whether the teachers’ team can absorb the pace they themselves choose. We try to set everything up so that it serves the purpose and, primarily, the school itself, and not the form or supervision by project management. We try to minimize the paperwork associated with the project.

How are the teachers in the participating schools rewarded for their extra work?
Most of the activities are built on the teachers’ inner motivation. The project brings great opportunities for self-fulfillment and professional development and improves teaching conditions. But the high commitment to work needs to be rewarded financially as well. The school’s principal therefore has a project reward pool available for use. Every year, the principal sets the current criteria of teacher work evaluation and continuously assesses how they are being met. The project reward per teacher at a model school usually totals about CZK 10,000 gross per school year.

How do you rate the success of your approaches and methods? 
We encourage the schools and teachers to be able to evaluate, on an ongoing basis, how successful they are in meeting their development goals. For that purpose, we have tried and true methods for working with the school’s educational development plan and with a teacher’s personal educational development plan throughout the year. We also seek to use procedures and methods that research has demonstrated to have the biggest positive impact on teaching. For example, we encourage teachers to learn how to evaluate the impact of their teaching on students’ learning on an ongoing basis (formative evaluation procedures).

However, we do not rely on teachers mastering such difficult methods on their own. Three days a week, an instructional coach is available for teachers at the school and can prepare teaching material with them and give them instant feedback. We also help teachers obtain external evaluations of certain student learning outcomes. We work with an expert team that developed the CLoSE testing and querying methodology based on international comparative research. We have also commissioned an external evaluation of the development of the school culture at the first two model schools. However, we believe that the most reliable method for identifying project success at schools is regular personal contacts with teachers and principals directly in schools and in classes. Personal experience is irreplaceable.

When are the first results felt in newly involved schools?
The initial results come quite fast. For example, some teachers tried out the reading workshop method with their students in the initial months of the project and were positively surprised by the students’ reactions. We observe a major positive change at the school level mainly at the beginning of the second school year, as teachers start working along with the school’s Educational Development Plan that they had created.

What is the role of project management and experts?
In a well functioning society, the entire system infuses schools with strength; in this case, it is primarily the project management, the expert panel, and instructional coaches in the field. The management is based on ourselves infusing the community with strength by keeping the path that we never doubt is the right one. Even though many things change, what does not change is our belief that we can teach every child, and that every child can develop their full potential at school.
We follow the rules of voluntariness and trust. Internal motivation arises where people trust and respect each other, and where they trust that each and every one of them does their work the best they can. Most project activities are voluntary, but we expect considerable improvements in the teachers’ quality of teaching.

Who is an instructional coach and what is their role in a model school?
Instructional coach is an experienced teacher and instructor who has gone through training in mentoring and possesses an extraordinary ability to win teachers’ trust. They work directly at model schools for three days a week. They assist in the planning of the school’s development and the professional development of all of the teaching team members. They offer teachers advice on improving their teaching (preparation for classes, safe feedback). They aid efficient cooperation between teachers in co-teaching and in setting up mutual learning of teachers and experience sharing. They support school management in preparing activities conducive to the school’s educational development. They are not employees of the school or the project and do not provide any evaluative information about the school to the principal or the director of the charitable organization.

What are the costs of supporting model schools?
The costs of supporting model schools are such as to be affordable for all Czech elementary schools if they receive the same percentage of the GDP as in average developed countries. The costs are between CZK 2 million and 3 million per school per year, depending on school size and project phase. The costs were approximately twice as high with the first two pilot schools between 2010 and 2015.

What are the costs of supporting cooperating schools?
The costs of supporting cooperating schools are such as to be affordable already today for those elementary schools that receive higher funding from the respective municipal government or parents and/or draw on subsidies available from, e.g., the EU funds. The costs are between CZK 700,000 and 900,000 per school depending on project phase.

How do you want to ensure the long-term sustainability of the activities started at project schools once their financing is reduced?
We seek to use only such forms of support that spur teachers’ inner motivation, and as such are longest-lasting. We also encourage schools to learn how to obtain co-financing from other available sources, for example, in cooperation with their respective municipal governments and with the parents, from EU funds, and from the secondary business they may pursue. Unlike other projects, however, we do not claim that it is realistic to expect that all the changes initiated in a school are sustainable without long-term support. Our project is unique in that it shows how most Czech schools could work if Czech society provided them with long-term conditions similar to those in other developed countries, which regard good education for all children as a priority. Financial support for the participating schools is still important after the first five years of the project.

Aren’t there too few supported schools? Aren’t you planning to extend the project to include more schools in the various regions?
We want at least one elementary school with long-term support to be in every Region of the Czech Republic. A school that you can visit and see how they teach children, where you can talk to teachers and managers. A school that inspires not just other schools but also the people who are responsible for the quality of education at Czech schools and their systematic support.

What exactly is the Reading Continuum for?
The Reading Continuum is a practical guide for teachers in literacy skills teaching. It describes the typical development of a child from a pre-reader to an independent and thinking reader. It contains an overview of educational goals, which seamlessly follow each other. In effect, the teacher can follow every child’s unique path and plan their further development accordingly.

How did it occur to you that it would be useful to have a Reading Continuum?
After several years of work using the literacy development methods in Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking, our team of literacy experts realized that we were lacking a system of targets. Each of our methods develops a specific literacy skill, but without formulated targets we reach for methods at random, and the teaching lacks a system. We also found that we were unable to decide responsibly whether our students knew what they could and should know when we did not know the targets and did not know what level of children’s literacy was good enough. However, we did not want to look for a standard, i.e. an artificial requirement; instead, we wanted to discern a natural developmental sequence of individual reading skills and capture it.

Can any teacher work with the Reading Continuum? What does it require of teachers?
Yes, they can, provided they are trained in this and want to improve on an ongoing basis. The best way for teachers to familiarize themselves with the Continuum is comparing it with their own experience, and see where their experience overlaps with our Continuum. With a mentor (literacy specialist) they then discuss what the teachers have found useful and where they are lost, and what they do not understand or cannot imagine in real life. The teacher and the mentor then follow up on what the teacher already does right, and seek to identify the next step within the teacher’s achievable zone.
The most difficult new method is a diagnostic analysis of students’ performance, based on which the teacher decides on what other targets in the Continuum to choose for their students’ development. A new Reading Continuum online platform (under construction) will offer teachers examples of students’ performance and its analyses, as well as examples of methodological paths to the various descriptors. We also hope to broaden, in cooperation with KVIC Nový Jičín, the group of literacy specialists who can provide direct support to teachers at schools.

Can teachers at our school get training for working with the Reading Continuum? How? Is it free or for a charge?
We want to develop a method for teacher training that will guarantee the actual application of the Continuum in the trainees’ practice. We are currently in the process of examining how to do this. In the 2014/2015 school year, we cooperated, at the expert level, in a one-year training course for literacy specialists in the Spirála project run by KVIC Nový Jičín. For the future, we believe that trainees (or their schools) should bear a portion of the training costs, but only to an extent that will not prevent anyone from participating. The development costs will not be included in the cost of the training, so the price should be acceptable.

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