By Lidia Barboza, PhD in Education. Director of the Postgraduate Degree in Education, Specialization in Leadership, Educational Management and Innovation, School of Humanities and Education, Universidad de Montevideo.
The digital revolution has been gathering momentum since the start of the pandemic. In 2020, the suspension of in-person classes opened the door to virtual education, to ensure continuity. Despite the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, the postgraduate program in education that trains managers in leadership, management and educational innovation at Universidad de Montevideo was not put to a halt. Sixty principals of various schools in Uruguay received their training in a fully virtual modality and focused on the principals’ new role in an unchartered reality in the field of education. New emphasis was put on personalized coaching, multimedia-mediated learning, competencies in the management of emotions, new hybrid modes of work, impact on teaching practices, and learning processes that had to make their ways into the homes of children and young people.
Unprecedented experiences such as working in teaching pairs (in-person and virtual), students attending classes both face-to-face and virtually at the same time, schoolchildren working on cycle projects that integrated grades and teachers, innovation projects generating computer applications to collaborate in the organization of teaching time, are evidence of the hybrid learning modes now emerging. Creative and resilient processes show the impact of the program on organizational cultures and a successful itinerary of an active community of practice in pedagogical laboratory mode.
How did we achieve this? Throughout the year, without interruption, we conducted 120 virtual meetings called peer visits, where host principals present their school to other principals to discuss the main priorities that call for real-life decision-making in their school. Each director has a chance to receive input from their peers and feedback reports from the faculty to improve and enhance their management skills. These have been fully interactive training and feedback meetings in a virtual environment, where UM students and faculty interacted with students and teachers from grade schools and high schools.
The program integrates research professors with valuable experience in the classroom, in schools and educational systems, who work jointly to support the entire training process. The work is based on a diagnostic evaluation of the situation at the educational center. The directors learn to design an evolving flexible action plan, define priorities, objectives, and goals, and they learn about the pedagogical strategies to achieve them. They are also shown how to monitor the sustainability of the evidence-based strategic actions and to assess the impact of the process of transforming the culture of the educational center in three phases over two years. The theoretical, methodological, and axiological contributions of the training modules are directly related to doing in management and solving educational problems in the real world of educational centers.
At the end of the 2020 academic year, this university graduate program, the sole of its kind in the country aimed at training principals since 2017, strategically designed in a blended format, evolved into a virtual educational community of active learning. We achieved the graduation of the first complete promotion; one hundred percent of the students of the second promotion completed their courses and we succeeded in keeping the entire group of generation 3. The programs have been implemented with optimal and varied learning from a research-action approach integrating the use of the future (Garrido, UNESCO) as a 21st century competency. We are grateful for the fruitful partnership with Fundación ReachingU and other foundations that make this contribution to Uruguayan education and society possible.