In a training program, it must be assumed that all participants are actors and capable of producing knowledge. Knowledge building happens according to the possibilities of construction that all individuals come across, as Paulo Freire stated. Education managers are actors who live their lives in school institutions and carry conceptions and knowledge constituted along their trajectory in education. Therefore, it is important for them to reflect on daily practices to unveil their advances, conditioning, contradictions and limits.
Assuming that education managers need to have a reflexive and open to dialogue posture towards the community, in order to ensure democratic relations and fulfill democratic management experiences, this work aims to share an experience developed with managers from Early Childhood Education Centers in 2010, in the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The main theoretical references for this analysis are Paulo Freire (1992), Michael Apple (2007), Janusz Korczak (1919) and Vitor Paro (2013).
The central focus of this training program was to foster coexistence and democratization of relations in the educational context. The education managers organized themselves in workgroups in order to create space for reflection and dialogue among the participants. Those workgroups were organized based on three subthemes related to the main one: 1) The relationship among the different actors inside the school, (teachers, support professionals, and children); 2) the relationship between school, families and community, and, 3) the relationship between education managers, focused on creating a balanced distribution of power and responsibilities among managers. In Sao Paulo, Early Childhood schools have at least two education managers: a pedagogical coordinator and a principal.
Each workgroup was made up of representatives from three different schools, who chose the same subtheme. The selection process took into account what was considered a major challenge for all members, according to the context of the school in which they worked. Within the workgroups, managers proposed a common question for the entire group working on that sub-theme to help shape the focus of the work to be developed. Some examples: How to design training strategies that include support staff?; How to ensure the effective participation of families in the schools’ pedagogical decision-making process? How to ensure unity within the management team, focusing on democratic coexistence? Why and how to listen to babies and kids at school? From the definition of the focus of their investigation, those workgroups elaborated research tools to have a better observation from the schools’ contexts and to subsidize new practices. As a final task, they had to write a report about their reflections and the process occurred during the year of the training program.
Based on the elected question, each group had to complete three tasks: to prepare a diagnostic about the school situation, to read and debate theoretical references related to the central theme and to create proposals to improve the practices in place. During the meetings, the trainer provided feedback with observations and problematizations related to the workgroup process and suggestions about theoretical references. This procedure ensured a partnership relationship between the trainer and the workgroups.
The school diagnostic was made by the education managers to understand how the actors at school saw the context related to the question proposed to each group. Learning the different actors’ point of view: children, professionals, and families was an imperative condition to the research. To create and foster a democratic relationship at the schools, it is necessary to understand the actors’ ideas about their contexts.
The last meeting of the training program was organized a Seminar. The intention was to socialize the reports and promote collective reflections about the subthemes, their challenges and the alternatives to ensure a democratic project inside the schools. At the end of the presentation of each subtheme, a debate occurred among the participants and the trainer contributed with guiding questions. To complete the training process, all education managers received a digital book containing all the reports and the trainer’s guiding questions.
The experience to work in workgroups challenged the participants to debate in a reflexive and collective way and to see the daily life in a distance, moving out from common sense and creating a dialogue with theoretical references, with other education managers and with the school actors (children, professionals, and families).
Democracy requires reflective experiences, permanent evaluation, and continuing elaboration. It is not just about conceptual learning, it requires the capacity to negotiate, to work collectively, having dialogue as a conductor of the entire process. Therefore, the workgroup training model is a privileged strategy, since the education managers are in permanent dialogue and reflection about their practices and contexts. The idea of the workgroup methodology came from the belief that it is necessary to value training programs, constituting them as permanent forums of debate and reflection about democratic experiences in education, favoring the participation of all actors.
Some of the participants highlighted that the research conducted by them in the schools encouraged collective work and provoked a deep reflection about the relationship between teachers and support professionals, between professionals and families and between adults and children. The research outcomes also identified how some professionals try to camouflage the existents conflicts and how necessary it is for education managers to mediate those conflicts.
The challenges to deal with the diversity of conceptions and principles among the professionals in schools were a recurring issue in the reports. To deal with differences and contradictions present in the day-to-day life of schools, it is required that schools are better prepared to guarantee a “dialogue of subjectivities” and to involve expanding views into the actors and the contexts present. In order to do that, it is necessary to create an institutional culture where cooperation and participation are the guiding principles of all relations among the actors established in a school.