From Austria to Estonia - A Shared Vision for Impact in the Classroom and Throughout the System

Verena Hohengasser, Felix Stadler, and Patrick Svensson-Jajko, Teach For Austria alumni

As a group of 15 Teach For Austria alumni, fellows, and staff members, we were welcomed to Tallinn, Estonia by our peers from Noored Kooli during our April school break. From the first moment on, our hosts made us feel right at home in Tallinn.

Being part of the Teach For All network offers a number of exchange possibilities with other organisations. Fellows and alumni from Teach For Austria started this movement of travelling to and learning from other network partners a few years ago, and because of positive impressions we experienced during our visits to Teach First (UK), Teach First Deutschland, Empieza Por Educar (Spain), and Teach First Israel, we decided to continue these educational trips to learn from our Estonian colleagues.

Three Teach For Austria alumni began planning the trip to Tallinn in 2019, and when the pandemic situation became more predictable in autumn 2021, we contacted Noored Kooli again. During the run-up to and planning for the visit we were delighted by Noored Kooli’s caring and open-hearted cooperation. The agenda for our trip was therefore easily designed and executed.

During the first two days, we met with our Noored Kooli colleagues and discussed the similarities, differences, and challenges of our countries’ educational systems, and our organizations’ visions and goals both at a systemic level and in the classroom. Four Noored Kooli alumnae presented the initiatives and NGOs they’ve launched in areas such as financial literacy and school development. These conversations prepared us very well for the insightful discussion we had with alumnae working at the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research. At Tallinn University we learnt more about the collaboration between Noored Kooli and the university’s teacher training programme.

One highlight followed the next, yet the visit to schools is always special. In two schools we saw that conscious teachers are at the same time conscious learners, and how cooperation, empathy, and honesty build strong relationships. We met a school development team and they presented to us how in the past years a challenging school became a collaborative learning space. It all started with peer learning groups of young teachers, these became institutionalised, and more and more colleagues participated. The groups soon became the starting point for new ideas and projects. Supported by the headmaster, they were an important motor for change.

Later we observed creative lessons led by enthusiastic, respectful, and admirable teachers who achieved an open and safe learning atmosphere. Traditionally-trained teachers and Noored Kooli fellows and alumni founded the "Avatud Kool,” a bilingual school (Estonian-Russian) where the concept of language immersion is realized. Teachers create a safe framework in which students support each other in learning the native language of their classmates, and together with their teachers they form an impressive school community characterised by mutual respect, appreciation, and modern teaching practices.

“It’s about the community“

In addition to the individual growth that comes with every dialogue, it became very clear again that no matter which country you live in, there is the need to stand up for disadvantaged children and young people with the goal of achieving equity in educational systems by enabling them to fully develop their individual potential. This trip gave us insights into new aspects, impressions, and ideas for our own leadership in different areas of society. The possibilities and (in some situations) the need for both individual actions and collective, systemic change became clear, elevating our travel experiences to a new level.

Thanks to Noored Kooli (and especially to Mona, who coordinated the visit), we had the chance to spend a great time with wonderful people whose passion still lights us up. Moreover the activities we did together as the Teach For Austria travelling group brought us even closer together, underlining the fact that the greater the cohesion among the people, the greater the change we can make!

For more insights and impressions read our report and this brief reflection of one of our participants.