At the beginning of 2020, the whole world was faced with a completely new life situation caused by the appearance of the COVID 19 virus. “Mionica” Secondary School, named after the town in which it is located, stopped its regular teaching processes in mid-March 2020. Direct contacts between teachers and students were interrupted, and all communication was transferred to the virtual space. It was necessary to quickly respond to the need to create an adequate online environment in which both students and teachers will quickly and easily cope and feel comfortable. Before the Ministry of Education even offered some of its online platforms, the IT specialists of our school offered their colleagues and students a Moodle learning platform that was easy to use and acceptable to everyone. Thus, the teaching process was quickly and efficiently moved from real school and classroom to the virtual space, and all problems were solved on the fly.
However, at that time, the school had already implemented an eTwinning project that was taking place in an online environment. The project called eTwinning Hotel. May I help you? was realized in cooperation with six tourism and hospitality schools (from Italy, Croatia, Greece, Romania, Serbia and Turkey) to provide students with the opportunity to get to know or deepen their knowledge about the hotel system of partner countries. Realizing that this project is a great opportunity for teachers and students to improve their digital skills and use of web tools, which is key to successful online teaching, we focused on detailed project elaboration and intensive communication with the partners.
Through the realization of tasks such as presenting the history of hotel development in partner countries through presentations in applications Canva, Genially, Prezi, Storyjumper, etc., creating a virtual hotel website of each country using Webly tool; presenting and solving problems in a hotel created in Google.sheet; creating an e-book in the ePubEditor application with dialogues about hotel problems and their solutions; until the last task, which was to record the dialogue from the e-book using roleplaying technique via Instagram and YouTube, we started using new web tools with which we enriched the teaching process outside the project. Apart from the use of various web tools that were used for the realization of interactive tasks, this project achieved other goals and results, such as intercultural dialogue, improvement of language competencies, and one of the most important products of the project is achieving harmonious cooperation and exchange of opinions between teachers and students from six European countries.
Students were allowed to go beyond the strictly provided curriculum, to include creative and divergent thinking and to solve problems set within the tasks. This contributed to the improvement of their communication, organizational, technical and informational skills, which helped them to present their ideas and thoughts, as well as to expand their knowledge about the hotel industry of the partner countries. Also, they realized how important knowledge of English is for their future job. In this way, our school has started an integrative teaching process located in an international environment, and that is the path that has been paved for the next school year, whether the teaching takes place in virtual or real-time.
A new development path of a secondary vocational school in Serbia
Based on my own experience, during the previous eight years of school management, as someone for whom the improvement and the quality of educational process come first and someone who on the school level works intensively on connecting and exchanging experiences internationally, but who also works on good cooperation between school communities, I can rightfully state that the leadership role of the headteacher is very important for the development of the entire educational institution. Vision, sincere desire and enthusiasm, striving for changes which will bring benefit to an educational institution, is always recognized, positively accepted and it is motivating for everyone involved in school life.
This is a type of leadership that is a prerequisite for healthy interpersonal relations in a school team, from where new development paths can be upgraded. The times that come require all participants in the teaching process to adapt and take a new creative approach. In accordance with the education development principles of the teacher community EduBalkan, to which I belong, I advocate that the development of secondary vocational education is based on an integrated approach through a mixed type of teaching. As a vocational secondary school that educates future chefs, waiters and tourism workers, it is very important that students master basic techniques of cooking and waitressing, as well as to feel real contact with tourists. This is a part of the practical teaching process that must be realized in a real environment, ie. in catering facilities and hotels, which has been the case in the earlier period.
However, all other subjects, which involve theoretical work, should be realized through an integrated learning concept. This means the need for teachers, who teach tourism subjects that are related, to work in teams and instead of previous ways of teaching subjects and lessons separately, apply project learning in a virtual environment with the use of social networks for marketing purposes. This is an approach that requires students to work longer-term on specific tasks within a project while placing solutions to those tasks to a wide audience via social networks. It is no longer enough to learn how to make a product, such as making and serving English breakfast, for example, but it is necessary to know how to place that product in public, advertise and promote it through modern web tools because this is the moment when students have the opportunity to learn and apply marketing skills, reflection and action, unfettered by the time frame of 45 minutes and the need to memorise theoretical facts in regular classes. In this way, students can start creating brands and start their businesses.
This approach also requires a new grading system. Reproduction of memorised facts would no longer be evaluated, but practical and digital skills, creativity, ability to navigate in virtual space, communication and literacy would be assessed. The next school year will be a new field of testing the ability and speed of adaptation for all those involved in the education system, both in Serbia and in the world. We believe that through teamwork, focus shift and a new methodological approach, we will be able to respond to the challenges of today.