A few years ago three young teachers met at a remote area on the island of Crete in Greece in order to teach. Angelos Patsias, John Manolakakis and Yuli Bosdelekidou, had been appointed at the primary school of Fourfouras, a mountainous village located at an altitude of 460 metres above sea level, where access is quite difficult owing to the fact that you have to drive round acute bends, on a road without signs, or otherwise use a very irregular bus service.
As soon as they got there they saw a typical country school; a quaint old- fashioned building with many spaces left unexploited. There was no longer any teaching staff as the last member of the faculty had just retired. The student body counted 40 children from Fourfouras and the surrounding villages.
The three teachers were left with the choice on how to deal with this new challenge: they could either get down to business and make it a place like home, or give in to anxiety considering the fact that they were relatively inexperienced teachers at the time, having to manage a school with no other staff. They chose the first option, a choice which transformed the old- fashioned school into a new model of education establishment. They fully renovated everything and introduced inspirational courses, ones that provide the children with a sense of initiative and teach them respect for difference.
The renovation started by restoring the classrooms by painting them, in nice bright colours, throwing old things away and even bringing new furniture from their own homes. The residents and the mayor of the village voluntarily contributed to this effort. The result was amazing: colorful rooms in which round tables were placed; bookcases, books and board games. In addition they brought computers to add the few existing ones, and designated one for each classroom.
That was part of the new method of teaching. Their lessons focused on creative activities such as storytelling, singing, drama amongst other creative subjects, as well as a number of precious outdoor activities. Furthermore, they taught research and project management techniques such as how to meet deadlines and work in groups.
In this way students learn how to manage time, take on responsibility and function as a member of a group.“Our target is to have happy children. We create people, invest in their souls, so we have to be very careful. We also focus on inclusion and respect for differences. Each student performs their own personal best. In this way respect for differences leads to a different method of education. Everyday we observe, talk and get informed about how everything can be improved and developed. There is always room for improvement.” said Patsias who had been there for almost five years and has only recently been transferred.
And so what happens if a problem with a student arises?
They have created their own student council in which all problems and/or disagreements are discussed and resolved. The teacher’s role in this is always discreet. It is now the teachers who are the ones to have to raise their hands to say or ask something! Bosdelekidou says that there can be many emotional or difficult moments during a school week, but at the end of each week all those moments are overcome in student council meeting.
This effort began shortly before the beginning of the Greek financial crisis and soon became widely known. Representatives from other schools have visited Fourfouras to consult each other and exchange views, while the school has already been added to the internationally alternative school listings, the Alternative Education Resource Organization, which include the famous SumerHill School in the UK.
It is worth mentioning that the most impressive thing was that even though these people helped and contributed to this attempt they did not wish to have their own names identified with the endeavor.
They want this effort to be continued by their successors, who are always more than welcome to join the faculty, Eleni Nikoloudaki represents one of these cases, who came to the school in 2013 and was immediately integrated. What they wished for the school was to be remembered as the result of teamwork and collective activity rather than as a means for them to acquire individual fame.