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Introduction

1

According to Field (1998), education played a central part in the construction of the European Union. Specifically, after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, a new era of cooperation in education within Europe began (Adams and Tulasiewicz, 1995). This led to an increased interest in mobility in education as it becomes apparent in the context of the Lisbon strategy and thus constitutes an advance in educational services (European Commission, 2009b).

2

This article presents the results of a qualitative study on the implementation of Comenius school partnerships regarding the experiences the teachers had from their involvement in mobility actions. The article is based on the theme-based content analysis of the data gathered from semi-structured interviews conducted on secondary school teachers. In order to highlight the main findings of the study, the text will also mention selected quotations from several participants. This research is the first of its kind in Greece regarding Comenius school partnerships under the Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP).

1. Educational mobility within the EU

3

From the European Union (EU) point of view, mobility is expected to enhance cooperation among member states and to promote a European dimension in education (Doyle, 2011; Enders and Teichler, 2006). Furthermore, mobility in education constitutes an advancement in educational services by offering stronger cohesion in Europe, preparing the workforce for the European job market (European Commission, 2009b; Nistor, 2011) and finally by enhancing intercultural education (Doyle, 2011).

4

Doyle (2011) defines mobility as “the movement of people between nations to facilitate cross cultural learning, cooperation and development” (p. 15). Therefore, mobility within Europe is described, not just as a simple movement but rather as a way to think as a European citizen (Novoa, 2013). In this new era of cooperation, the role of the teacher is changing to a comprehensive level in which he/she is called upon to work together with his/her colleagues and with people outside the school (Barthélemy, 1997). In addition, the enhancement of teacher collaboration is often extensive and diverse, and embodies, among others, principles such as organisational responsiveness, learning opportunities, increased efficiency and improved effectiveness (Hargreaves, 2001). Finally, collaboration allows the mobility actions to improve the quality of education and to enrich the content of teaching (Peck, 1997). In order to increase this added value of the newly acquired knowledge gained by mobility, knowledge sharing should be sought (Patrick and Dotsika, 2007).

2. European citizenship

5

Another aspect of educational mobility is that it instills a sense of European citizenship which has become a core component in education systems of the EU (McCann and Finn, 2006). Mobility is a key aspect to its development (Osler, 2012) as it can be promoted “at the grass-roots level” where “more and more ordinary people have to be involved” (Singh, 2009, p. 29).

6

According to Preuss (1995, p. 280), European citizenship “helps to abolish the hierarchy between the different loyalties and to allow the individuals a multiplicity of associative relations without binding them to a specific nationality. European citizenship is more an amplified bundle of options within a physically broadened and functionally more differentiated space than a definitive legal status”.

7

Moreover, European citizenship education as presented by the European Commission allows people to better appreciate the individual as a person and as a contributor to the society (McCann & Finn, 2006). Along these lines, Singh (2009, p. 29) states that there “should be mutual recognition of members’ identity” rather than an attempt to surpass national identities.

3. European programmes based on mobility

8

The EU implements programmes in the field of education and training to promote the international mobility of students and teachers and the cooperation among schools (Lasonen, 2009; Moutsios, 2007).

9

This article focuses on the LLP which was the continuation of the Socrates I & II programmes. One of their sub-programmes, the Comenius programme, was the first to introduce mobility actions for primary and secondary education (European Commission, 2001). This study deals with one aspect of the Comenius programme, the school partnerships, with the goal of developing joint learning projects for pupils and their teachers (European Commission, 2013). The LLP has since been replaced by a new programme, Erasmus+, whose main purpose is to create a single integrated programme that brings together most of EU’s programmes [1][1] Erasmus+ covers Comenius, Grundtvig, Leonardo, Erasmus,.... It is intended to be in place until 2020 (McGowan and Phinnemore, 2015).

10

The general objective of the LLP was to contribute, through lifelong learning, to the development of the European Community as an advanced knowledge-based society. In addition to the general objective, the Comenius programme aimed at developing knowledge and understanding regarding the diversity of European cultures and languages and its value (European Commission, 2006). Moreover, these programmes aim at promoting the international exchange of academic staff on a regular basis (Enders and Teichler, 2006). Finally, a Comenius project also aims at involving the local community in its projects (Onestini, 1996). To do so, a Comenius project focuses on the involvement of local authorities, parents, individuals and non-governmental organisations (Theodosopoulou, 2010).

4. The implementation of Comenius school partnerships in Greece

11

Compared to the first European programmes (Erasmus, Lingua, Socrates, etc), the participation of Greeks in European mobility has gradually increased. Specifically, from 2007 to 2013, 50,000 students, teachers and assistant staff participated in LLP. It is estimated that this number will increase to 75,000 from 2014 to 2020 [2][2] Commissioner Vassiliou launches Erasmus+ in Greece,....

12

As far as the Comenius programme is concerned, there appears to be a significant increase in mobility. From 2008 to 2012 the Greek national agency [3][3] The Greek national agency is named Greek State Scholarship’s... approved the participation of 6,120 students and 8,069 teachers in mobility actions regarding Comenius school partnerships. Correspondingly, the number of schools, which participated in school partnerships increased by 62 % from 2008 to 2012.

13

However, despite these promising numbers, we still have to take into consideration that the overall percentage of teachers who participated in mobility actions within school partnerships in 2012 was only 1.25 %.

5. Aim of the Research

14

The aim of the research is to study the teachers’ experiences from their participation in mobility actions under Comenius school partnerships. The study, based on the LLP goals for Comenius and the relative literature, focuses on answering, among others, how participating in a mobility action enhanced European citizenship and what the impact on schools is [4][4] The current paper focuses on the impact regarding collaboration....

5.1. Research Methodology

15

In order to achieve the aim of the research, a qualitative approach was chosen as it is often used to understand how people make sense of their world and the experiences they have in it (Merriam, 2009). Moreover, qualitative research analyses questions like what, why, how and is primarily concerned with meaning rather than measuring (Keegan, 2009).

16

The method used to gather information was in-depth interviews in which the researcher explores a few general topics to guide the interview rather than dictate it (Marshall and Rossman, 2010; Smith, 1995). Furthermore, it is more likely for interviewees to express their main viewpoints in an openly designed interview situation rather than in a standardized interview or a questionnaire (Flick, 2006). Regarding the interviews conducted for our study, an interview plan was prepared and used. All interviewees were asked the same questions but the order of the questions followed the flow of the interview. Finally, each interview lasted 30-50 minutes.

17

Regarding the selection of the sample for the interviews, snowball sampling was used, because the names of the teachers involved are not publicly mentioned. This method is useful where access to the sample is difficult (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2013). In addition, snowball sampling “can also be used to provide information about the way in which individuals influence and are influenced by others” (Monge and Contractorm, 1988, p. 125).

18

The sample consisted of 16 teachers (13 women, 3 men) from 7 secondary schools in the prefecture of Messinia. All of the schools participated in Comenius school partnerships under the LLP during the spring of 2013. Six of the teachers were the contact person [5][5] A contact person is the teacher who is responsible... and only one of the participants had previous experience in European projects. Most of the teachers participated in one or two mobility actions. However, the teachers who were the contact persons participated in at least 3 mobility actions.

19

The content of the transcriptions was analysed via thematic analysis, which is a process for encoding qualitative information (Boyatzis, 1998). The researchers generated the categories based on the conceptual framework and through prolonged engagement with the data (Marshall and Rossman, 2010). The categories that were used in the research are presented in Table 1. The transcripts were then analysed in order to code the data (Creswell, 2012).

Table 1: Primary categories and subcategories

20

Reliability is of greater concern with thematic analysis than with content analysis because research analysts must interpret raw text data in order to apply codes, and because interpretations may vary across analysts (Guest and MacQueen, 2008). To deal with the reliability issue and to be able to claim that the codes are objective, the inter-rater reliability was used, in which codes are assigned to the text by two independent coders (Joffe and Yardley, 2004). The results were stressed with Cohen’s Kappa indicator which is a statistic that can be used to demonstrate point-by-point agreement (Bakeman and Gottman, 1997) and also takes into account the agreement occurring by chance (Gruber and Matousek, 2010; Gwet, 2012). Then the degree of agreement between the independent coders was calculated. The determined value was 0.91 which ensures a high reliability rate (Landis and Koch, 1977).

21

The qualitative data analysis software, Atlas.ti (version 6), was used in order to proceed with the coding of the data (Marshall and Rossman, 2010). The software was also used to prepare the data to be run by the CAT [6][6] Coding Analysis Toolkit (CAT) software hosted at h... software, in order to test inter-rater reliability.

5.2. Findings

22

Taking into consideration the content analysis of the interviews, we will now present the findings which cover the impact on European citizenship and interpersonal and intercultural relations (during or after the mobility period). We will also present the findings related to knowledge sharing within schools and school cooperation with the local community. The findings are also represented in a concept map (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Concept map of findings

7.1. European citizenship

7.1.1. Understanding intercultural relations in Europe

23

Teachers who took part in the research stated that their participation in the Comenius programme helped them better understand the culture of the country they visited [7][7] The Greek teachers who participated in this study visited.... In almost all partnerships, teachers were abroad for five days. During that time they visited the hosting school and they attended a class.

24

“(regarding the visit abroad) You see the different culture of the hosting country and you come to the conclusion that the similarities are more than the differences” (P. 3)

“We have the opportunity to see traditions and customs of other civilizations” (P. 4)

“We noticed an example of different customs in Romania. When they welcomed us in the hosting school, students gave us bread which we had to put in salt before eating it” (P. 7)

25

Specifically, they noted that they were not just visitors like regular tourists but, with the help of the host school teachers, they lived like the locals. Although the teachers stayed in a hotel, they had the opportunity to visit the hosting teachers’ house. Throughout this experience, teachers immersed themselves in the culture and heritage of the places they visited, which led to revised stereotypes and prejudices.

26

“Our students saw different cultures, they saw colored people, and that made quite an impression…in the beginning they looked hesitant but afterwards they became best friends” (P. 10)

“If you go on a trip by yourself you simply cannot see the same things. You get to see their (people from hosting country) attitudes, the similarities […]” (P. 5)

“[…] stereotypes and prejudices are smashed and you realize that you are not the center of the universe or the others your enemies; they are regular people with everyday problems just like yours” (P. 2)

27

Most interviewees stated that, following their participation in the Comenius programme, they have a more positive attitude towards Europe and feel more like European citizens than they had before they left.

28

“[…] no longer can I function thinking only of Greece; I feel now that I’m not just a part of Greece but also a member of a broader community and this therefore is reflected upon the school and my colleagues” (P. 8)

“[…] the contact with foreign teachers certainly makes you feel European” (P. 3)

29

Furthermore, most of the participants mentioned that their school participated in further Comenius school partnerships following their initial Comenius partnership.

30

“The children themselves are coming and telling us “aren’t we going to do something too?”. Now they finally know, while in the beginning it was extremely difficult to convince the students” (P. 8)

7.1.2. Interpersonal & Intercultural relations

31

As far as the collaboration between Greek participants and the teachers from foreign countries is concerned, the study indicates that they generally had a smooth cooperation, which often led to friendly relations. However, there were a few situations where minor problems, such as cultural and habitual misunderstandings occurred. These issues were resolved through dialogue among the participants. Overall the interviewees emphasized that they enjoyed working with foreign coworkers and they intend to cooperate with them in future European projects.

32

“Minor problems came up but these were always solved automatically as we got better acquainted in every meeting” (P. 3)

“The approach to some issues may have been diversified, because of the different perspective teachers had. However, collaboration occurred without conflicts” (P. 8)

“I am in a position to say that it has been an excellent collaboration. Everybody wanted to gain something, to meet each other. So this intention, this wish to learn something from the others actually led to an efficient and great cooperation” (P. 15)

7.2. Collaboration with colleagues in school

33

Most of the interviewees also appreciate the chance, for the first time in their career, to collaborate with teachers from various fields within their own school. Thus, the added value of this cooperation was the willingness of the teachers involved to participate in similar future collaborations.

34

This finding becomes more important if we consider the fact that teacher collaboration in Greece mainly stems from personal initiatives rather than as a result of official requirement (Kougioumtzis and Patriksson, 2009, p. 144, 147). Specifically, in Greek secondary schools, teachers are more reluctant to work in a cross-curricular way (Gordon et al., 2009, p. 115).

35

“We had to collaborate the whole time. Of course we had different roles; one person was responsible for emails, another had to coordinate the students etc. [...] Often we had meetings outside of school hours” (P. 5)

“a rarely formed cooperation between social and formal sciences began […] and all expertise were in a constant collaboration” (P. 9)

36

Finally, it appears that the school administration supported these programmes. This valuable cooperation was viewed as a prerequisite for the program’s successful outcome, as mentioned by the participants.

37

“Greatly! (referring to the support given by the headmaster). For instance, he (the headmaster) had to reschedule the school program to make time for the organisation of the project, all the paperwork that had to be submitted” (P. 5)

7.3. Knowledge sharing

38

Another subject mentioned in the interviews was the teachers’ willingness to share the newly acquired knowledge from the programme with their coworkers. According to them, it is not possible for a teacher who did not participate in the programme to gain knowledge based on others’ experiences. They think that you have to actually take part in a mobility activity if you are to fully understand it. However, the participants believe that if sharing knowledge and experiences occurs after every mobility activity, more teachers will be motivated to participate in future projects. Despite the eagerness of all the participants to pass on their experience to their colleagues, this had a limited effect on other teachers; mainly due to the fact that this dissemination of knowledge mostly happened via personal, informal conversations.

39

“I think that it is a very personal experience to change your everyday life for something that you saw and had never thought about before, and it is not easy to explain or bring that to others” (P. 7)

“Ideally, we, and especially the coordinator should dedicate some time after every mobility action to describe our experiences” (P. 16)

“I would honestly like after every trip to present here what took place. It didn’t happen” (P. 3)

40

Moreover, most of the participants argued that there were a number of teachers in every school, mostly teachers near retirement age, who did not seem to be interested in learning about the progress of this partnership.

41

“From the younger teachers no, the older teachers unfortunately keep their distances but from the young ones I saw a lot of eagerness” (P. 10)

7.4. Cooperation with the local community

42

As far as the interaction between school and the local Greek community is concerned, the teachers involved in the study stated that the school participation in a Comenius partnership promoted the collaboration with local companies, cultural associations and other professionals. Furthermore, all participants expressed their satisfaction regarding the response of the local community to their request for assistance. The assistance came after personal contact from the teachers with community members and it usually consisted of visiting local companies or individual professionals that supported the Comenius school actions.

43

“We visited the local monastery and had lunch there. We also visited public organisations and local businesses” (P. 7)

44

Moreover, the participants believed that this cooperation helped the community itself, especially when the school was in a rural area.

45

“It was very good especially for a close-knit community in a rural area like ours” (P. 10)

46

On the other hand, in some cases collaboration with the local authorities was limited to a visit with the mayor and only in few instances did schools receive financial aid for the hosting activities.

47

“The local authorities did not actually help with anything. We just visited the City Hall” (P. 5)

48

Most of the participants stated that the Comenius programme got the parents involved mainly by providing accommodations for the foreign students. In the end, the parents became very close with the students that stayed in their homes. All participants stated that when they sought help from the parents, they willingly offered their help.

49

“Furthermore, the parents’ association participated actively, not only with the preparations but also by accommodating the foreign students” (P. 8)

8. Discussion

50

This research shows the Comenius programme’s ability to enhance the European dimension in the schools and the European identity of the teachers involved in the programme. The same results, that is, schools cooperated with schools in other EU countries and teachers created sustainable links with their peers in other countries, are also found in the official evaluation of the Socrates and LLP published by the European Commission (2001, 2009a, 2011). Moreover, Comenius programmes helped the participants better understand the cultural differences across Europe, which was one of the objectives of these programmes (European Parliament and Council, 2006). As a result, the teachers revised stereotypes and prejudices, something which can be found in other studies as well (Gordon, 2001; Libotton, van Braak and Garofalo, 2002; Sirok and Kosmrlj, 2012).

51

Overall, the findings that refer to the collaboration among colleagues across Europe are consistent with the findings in other studies (Diamantopoulou, 2006; Gordon, 2001; Gutierrez Colon-Plana, 2012). In these studies, the participants express their satisfaction regarding their cooperation with other foreign teachers and emphasize the development of a friendly relationship. In our research all participants affirmed their intention to collaborate with foreign colleagues in the future.

52

In addition, Comenius school partnerships have had a major impact on establishing school networks with other European schools. This programme was the first opportunity for local schools to participate in a European project and cooperate with foreign schools. Soon after their first engagement in a Comenius project, most of the interviewees’ schools participated again in another Comenius project, a conclusion also found in a 2012 CIEP [8][8] Centre international d’études pédagogiques (CIEP). (2012) study. Furthermore, Comenius projects helped the participating schools to establish links with other European countries, to develop new cooperation efforts with foreign schools and, finally, as mentioned in Gordon (2001), to think in a ‘European way’.

53

Furthermore, the interviews indicated that cooperation among the school staff was achieved. This is also mentioned in a study conducted by Léargas, the Irish Exchange Bureau (Doyle, 2011). In our study, the participants affirmed that educational cooperation among colleagues was indeed encouraged and they felt better prepared for future collaboration. As mentioned in Johnson’s (2003) study, teacher collaboration would be a welcomed improvement in schools.

54

Diamantopoulou (2006), who examines the benefits of Comenius school partnerships in the Greek education system, notes that schools formed links with the local community. Furthermore, the 2012 CIEP (2012) study, which analyses the impact of Comenius school partnerships on participating institutions, concludes that Comenius projects helped open up schools to their local community by fostering closer ties with cultural institutions, companies and local authorities. The analysis of these findings shows an agreement between these two studies, as far as the opportunities provided to do so are concerned. However, regarding the actual implementation of this cooperation, it became clear that the schools came in contact with the local authorities, organisations and companies mostly when they needed their help in preparing for the visit to their school. Unfortunately those contacts did not continue once the programme ended.

55

On the other hand, attention should be given to certain aspects mentioned by the participants. Most participants stated their concern regarding their colleagues’ indifference towards the programme. In an attempt to explain this behavior, participants mentioned that teachers had a significant workload which prevented them from focusing on the project. This result coincides with the findings from the qualitative study conducted by Gutiérrez Colón-Plana (2012) on Comenius projects in ten Catalan educational institutions. Furthermore, participants believed that teachers who are near retirement age aren’t interested in similar non-mandatory programmes.

56

A major concern of participants, which has not been analysed in other studies, was whether their participation could influence their colleagues who were not involved in the programme. Boateng, Dzandu, and Agyemang (2015) confirm that teachers who share knowledge with other colleagues are likely to perform better. Moreover, interviewees mentioned a lack of school-wide strategy to share their acquired knowledge with their coworkers. The role of the school administration regarding the sharing of knowledge is studied by Hamid (2008) who states that school administrators must encourage teachers to share their knowledge.

Conclusion

57

The key findings of the data analysis show the European added value of the Comenius programme. In conclusion, it appears that there are changes in teachers’ perception of European identity as a result of their participation in European mobility projects.

58

Furthermore, these projects impact the interpersonal and intercultural relations of the participants. Specifically, the teachers who participated in Comenius programmes better understood the foreign culture and learned how to work in interdisciplinary teams with foreign and local colleagues.

59

In addition, teachers who participated in Comenius partnerships were eager to share their experiences with their colleagues. However, they did not manage to effectively share their experiences. It therefore seems that schools, which take part in Comenius programme should take action to help the process of knowledge sharing.

60

Finally, it appears that relationships with the local community and collaboration with other European schools, which were established during the European programmes, ended once the programmes were over. It is believed that such projects should offer incentives to schools to form permanent relationships with the local community and other European schools.

61

What should be mentioned though is that there were certain limitations regarding the research study. Specifically, the study was limited by its small sample size, as it is based on a small-scale qualitative research. Finally, the sample size could have been expanded by including teachers from primary schools.


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Notes

[1]

Erasmus+ covers Comenius, Grundtvig, Leonardo, Erasmus, Erasmus Mundus, Tempus, Jean Monnet, Youth in Action programmes and three other international cooperation programmes in the field of higher education, under three Key Actions.

[2]

Commissioner Vassiliou launches Erasmus+ in Greece, Brussels, 16 January 2014. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-23_en.htm

[3]

The Greek national agency is named Greek State Scholarship’s Foundation (IKY) http://www.iky.gr/en/discover-erasmus

[4]

The current paper focuses on the impact regarding collaboration among teachers, the factors facilitating or impeding the transfer of the new experience to the participants’ colleagues, and cooperation with the local community.

[5]

A contact person is the teacher who is responsible for contacting partner schools.

[6]

Coding Analysis Toolkit (CAT) software hosted at http://cat.ucsur.pitt.edu/

[7]

The Greek teachers who participated in this study visited various types of schools (primary, secondary, vocational) in countries all over Europe such as Italy, France, Germany, Poland, Romania, Cyprus, the UK, etc. for the purposes of the Comenius partnership.

[8]

Centre international d’études pédagogiques (CIEP).

Résumé

English

In this article, the European Community policy regarding the implementation of the Comenius programme to build the identity of the European citizen and its impact on interpersonal and intercultural relations among teachers is assessed. Semi-structured interviews of teachers involved in Comenius mobility projects in Greece were used as a tool to explore this subject. A theme-based content analysis concludes that the participation of the teaching staff in projects dealing with mobility has indeed helped in acknowledging European diversity and has enhanced collaboration among teachers of the same school or with colleagues from other European countries. On the other hand, the bonds formed during the programme with the local community did not last after the end of the programme.

Keywords

  • European dimension
  • European education policy
  • European citizen
  • Comenius school partnerships
  • teacher mobility

Français

L’impact des programmes européens concernant la mobilité dans l’enseignement secondaire Dans cet article, la politique de la communauté européenne concernant la mise en œuvre du programme Comenius, avec pour objectif la construction du citoyen européen, et son impact sur les relations interpersonnelles et interculturelles parmi les professeurs est ici évaluée. Des entretiens semi-structurés de professeurs impliqués dans des projets de mobilité Comenius en Grèce ont été utilisés comme outils pour explorer ce sujet. Une analyse des contenus par thématique mène à la conclusion que la participation du corps enseignant dans des projets de mobilité a, en effet, favorisé la reconnaissance de la diversité européenne et a renforcé la collaboration entre professeurs du même établissement ou avec des collègues d’autres pays européens. Toutefois, les liens créés durant le projet avec la communauté locale n’ont pas duré à son issue.

Mots-clés

  • dimension européenne
  • politique d’éducation européenne
  • citoyen européen
  • partenariats scolaires Comenius
  • mobilité des enseignants

Plan de l'article

  1. Introduction
  2. 1. Educational mobility within the EU
  3. 2. European citizenship
  4. 3. European programmes based on mobility
  5. 4. The implementation of Comenius school partnerships in Greece
  6. 5. Aim of the Research
    1. 5.1. Research Methodology
    2. 5.2. Findings
    3. 7.1. European citizenship
      1. 7.1.1. Understanding intercultural relations in Europe
      2. 7.1.2. Interpersonal & Intercultural relations
    4. 7.2. Collaboration with colleagues in school
    5. 7.3. Knowledge sharing
    6. 7.4. Cooperation with the local community
  7. 8. Discussion
  8. Conclusion

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