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Integrated work

Project shows how public schools can become an arena for reflection

BRAZThe Vicente Rao elementary (*) municipal school, in the city of Campinas, state of São Paulo, was the site of a research project that aimed to transform the bureaucratic organization of public education, by fighting the fragmentation and lack of dialogue that often underscore relations among the teachers, the school administration, and the students. The institution’s teachers and heads were given grants to take part in the project “Integrated work in public schools: participation in policy and pedagogy,” coordinated by Pedro Ganzeli, a professor from the School of Education at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), and financed by FAPESP’s Program for the Improvement of Public Education.

The project aimed primarily at developing new ways of generating school organization, transforming work relations within the school, and with it and the central educational bodies. Using the comments about the fragmentation of school reality and lack of participation by the school’s staff in determining day-to-day activities, actions were devised, carried out and evaluated by the individuals that experience daily educational life. One problem linked to the relations between the school and the central educational bodies was the lack of coordination between the administrative and the pedagogical spheres. “The educational supervisor would talk to the headmistress while the pedagogical coordinator talked to the pedagogical counselor independently; this group of experts never got together aiming at combined action,” says Ganzelli. During the course of the three year project, a group of 19 grant holders took part in 114 general meetings, focused on thinking about pedagogical actions and the development of concrete actions. The methodology employed was “research-action,” whereby one allows all the participating researchers to intervene in the research process, which encourages the evaluation of the impact generated on school reality. “The idea was to make these individuals think about the work, proposals for action being expected to rise from these reflections. These proposals would then be evaluated at a later date, resulting in new proposals and new actions,” he explains.

One of the project’s actions was the development of a structure for a common teaching plan for all teachers, favoring a clear and objective definition of the contents and the development of planned didactic activities on an annual basis for all subjects. This met with some resistance at first, because the plan was interpreted as a form of control. However, thanks to debates at the research meetings, the grant holders understood the advantage of working in an integrated manner, so the teaching plan was then perceived as a didactic tool to further interdisciplinarity. “At first, they said that change was Utopian,” says Ganzelli. “They didn’t believe that they could carry out scientific research. As the research activities unfolded, however, they started seeing what was happening with their own work more clearly. And this created the notion of collective research. They changed the way of doing things in teaching, based on greater reflection about their own performance; they experienced organizational learning and started to believe in the transformation of public schools.”

Full team
Taking part in general meetings and specific subproject meetings, keeping field diary records and producing monthly reports were the main work procedures used in this research. The Vicente Rao school was chosen because it had a full administrative team (one headmistress, two deputy headmistresses and a pedagogical guidance counselor), an important condition for analyzing the relations between the school administration and the teachers. “The research project was designed to be participative, with the administration and the teachers stating the school’s main needs; these were then transformed into subprojects, coordinated by groups of researchers from the school itself,” says Ganzeli. “Bringing teachers and school management together in the development of a common study is an innovation,” he states.

After all the teachers started participating collectively in school planning, physical education activities, for instance, took on interdisciplinary tones. The Interclass Games, which previously were of an exclusive nature, as only the best could take part, were transformed into the Friendship Games, allowing all students to enter. Furthermore, interdisciplinary integration among the teachers was promoted. “Many became examples of integration. The Science teacher used the games to measure the heartbeats of the students; the Mathematics teacher produced statistical tables of the performance of the teams with the students; and the Portuguese teacher coordinated the students to produce a magazine on the school games, including interviews and historical texts from the Olympics,” says Ganzelli. Fighting prejudice was one of the themes of a subproject on social inclusion. “A visually handicapped student ran for school council representative and was treated with respect by all during the campaign. This was one of the fruits of the integrated work of the special education teachers, the non-teaching staff and the other teachers,” states the researcher.

The fact that members of the school administration and teachers then pursued further qualifications was also ascribed to the project. The headmistress, one of the deputy headmistresses and three teachers, encouraged by the research activities, decided to take specialization courses. The experience, notes Ganzeli, must be understood as construction produced by the school’s individuals. “We are not concerned with reproducing a management model, but rather, with encouraging systematized investigation of the policy and teaching practices in public schools. We observed that the research participants, both the administration and the teachers, started to raise this debate at the other schools they work in,” states the professor, who plans to organize the knowledge accrued in the project in a book.

FAPESP’s Program for the Improvement of Public Education has already provided support for 121 projects since its inception in 1996. One of the program’s requirements is the involvement of teachers from public schools as co-participants through the distribution of grants. The program’s main aim is to encourage finding solutions to problems or to specific school challenges, besides closing the gap between students and professors, and the knowledge generated through other FAPESP programs. This was the case, for instance, of Biota-FAPESP, which studies São Paulo State biodiversity. “The program has been evolving and incorporating complementary benefits, such as the technical reserve, which lends the researchers greater flexibility,” says Marilia Sposito, a professor at the School of Education at the University of São Paulo and the coordinator of the program.