“My name is Maria Dimitriadou. I am an English language teacher at the 3rd Senior High School of Kavala. I have worked as a teacher at all public primary and secondary education levels for the last 25 years. My experience has taught me that our students can, want and will make a difference in a society that needs reformation on all levels, from its very basis. If there is anything of actual substance and importance that we, as teachers, can achieve, it is to stand by their side with all the cognitive, social and emotional skills we may possess and give them the necessary outlets to reach their true potential.”
What is the most important thing you have gained through the training?
A democratic and inclusive school seems to be still a goal to be attained. In this framework, the project “Schools for All” taught me that it needs a lot of effort, strong conviction, consistency, empathy and cooperation to make our schools a place of equal opportunities for all, regardless of national origin, religion, social and economic status, gender identity or special education needs. Vulnerable members of the school community will no longer be discriminated against or marginalized once we decide to fight against stereotypes, hidden and overt, divisive mentality and practice with the use of effective methods and action tools. Through my participation in the project, I had the opportunity to cooperate with my colleagues, students and parents of immigrant/refugee profiles, specialized trainers and social services toward the common aim of inclusion, development of intercultural sensitivity and awareness, tolerance and understanding. We may have a long way ahead of us in reaching our goal, but through the project, we got valuable motivation, encouragement and solid support to keep trying.
How are you going to implement the knowledge you gained into the class? Are there any challenges? If yes, explain.
The most important gain from my participation in the “Schools for All” project is that I was offered tools and methods that, when implemented with conviction and empathy, can make a difference in the lives of our students, teachers, and the local community. Cooperation and the formation of broad social alliances are the keywords when aiming at actual inclusion. Challenges and probable difficulties are easier to cope with if addressed through active collaboration, teamwork and united action. In this framework, we, as a school community, had the chance to work alongside our trainer in designing and implementing several activities. Namely:
- Establish cooperative relations between our school, students/parents of immigrant/refugee profile, parents’ association, education networks, NGOs and social services towards the common goal of inclusion and intercultural understanding. A constant flow of information among all partners concerning living conditions, family background, education needs and learning difficulties of students created the chance for steady and practical cooperation, which was evaluated and redesigned when necessary to produce the desired results.
- Offer equal opportunities for knowledge and acceptance to students of a vulnerable or disadvantaged background.
- Improve the quality of language teaching, both in Greek and English
- Address issues of practical nature that helped our immigrant/refugee students feel welcome and accepted, like creating a multilingual (Greek, English, Urdu, Farsi) informative, simplified version of our School Code of Conduct and Direction Signs to assist students in finding their way around the school building thus feel more “at home.”
- Design and implement teaching and learning material that focused on the actual needs of students in their new social and educational environment
- Plan, organize and carry out joint activities, on a broad level, through the cooperation of Erasmus+ and “Schools for All” ongoing projects, with the aid and support of the Hellenic Theatre/Drama and Education Network, aiming at establishing solid bonds through the development of tolerance, understanding and empathy.
- Disseminate our activities in the local society to form wider and more effective alliances
Do you believe that “Schools for all” project differs from other educational programmes? If yes, why?
The “Schools for all” project was a delightful surprise for my colleagues and me. From that very moment, we decided to participate in the project actively. We received constant and practical support from our trainer towards the common goal of creating a safe, democratic, inclusive school open to all students. We had all the necessary help and guidance in dealing cooperatively with any challenges or difficulties that came up through cultivating trust, collaborative problem solving, and developing sensitivity and creativity. We learned how to contribute, each of us to each own potential, to the shared goal of making refugee/immigrant children feel accepted, equal and safe in our school’s environment.
The main factor that differentiates the project “Schools for all” from other similar projects is that it aims to create schools open to all students by establishing a supportive structure that is guaranteed by broad collaboration among all partners: students, teachers, parents, social services, educational networks, organizations, the local society. This holistic approach ensures the achievement of the project’s goal and opens up the school community to society with trust, away from discrimination.
Moreover, the continuity of the cooperation even after the typical completion of the project is a hopeful prospect that the joint effort will have consistency and future.
What inclusion means for you?
For me, inclusion means accepting and creating a fair, equitable, healthy learning environment that provides equal access, opportunities and resources to all students, regardless of origin or background. It stands for the active promotion of intercultural understanding and diversity. Above all, it means actual welcoming of students who have been robbed of their fundamental right to education and personal development.
Is there a message you would like to share?
John Donne wrote as early as the 17th century, “No man is an island”. People from all origins, backgrounds and statuses are and should be interconnected. We become better human beings when we accept, understand, empathize, and live side by side. Suppose we, as teachers, are to offer something meaningful to our students. In that case, it is to show them the way to build fair societies with equality, cultural tolerance, free of discrimination and stereotypes of all kinds. After all, we owe our students that much.
Maria Dimitriadou has been carrying out projects on a national and international level, focusing on Human Rights, inclusion, equal opportunities and multicultural acceptance for more than 15 years. She has worked with teachers from schools all over Europe in cooperative actions such as Erasmus+ KA1, KA2, and e-Twinning projects to protect the inalienable rights to education, and eliminate social discrimination, gender equality and refugee inclusion. She actively supports experiential learning for her students. She is the coordinator of the Drama Group in the 3rd Senior High School of Kavala, supporting students in the staging of performances of theatrical plays such as:
- “Dirt” (Robert Schneider) focuses on the lives of immigrants in hostile, discriminatory social environments.
- “Monologues across the Aegean Sea” which are based on stories/testimonies of unaccompanied refugee children (recorded by the Hellenic Theatre/Drama and Education Network (TENet-Gr) and the UNHCR Greece)
- “Himmelweg” (HuanMayorka) focuses on the Holocaust and the elimination of humanity under the dominance of Nazism.
She remains a life-long learner and advocates for human rights and social justice.