Step by Step pedagogical methodology - 25 years in Hungary

The latest volume of Apple on the Tree, which addresses the challenges of professional development for teachers in the 21st century, has been published. An interview with Mari Zágon, professional manager of the Step by Step programme, starts on page 72. "Teachers who are more open, more flexible, who reflect on their own professional role or practice, are moving towards modernity." How do the changes of the 21st century affect [...]

The latest volume of Apple on the Tree, which addresses the challenges of professional development for teachers in the 21st century, has been published.

An interview with Mari Zágon, professional manager of the Step by Step programme, starting on page 72.

"Teachers who are more open, more flexible, who think for themselves, who
their professional role or practice, they are moving towards modernity."

How can the changes of the 21st century affect teachers and the role of teachers?

I believe that the challenges of our time are creating a crisis situation in the domestic teaching profession. While the socio-economic development of the 21st century is creating new expectations for teachers in education, which require a new approach, a large part of the teaching profession has received a completely different preparation and is working with traditional tools and methods in a system based on a 20th century approach. This puts teachers under great strain in interpreting their own role.

What does the new approach require of teachers?

  • Firstly, respect for individuality, i.e. starting from the individuality, personality and real developmental needs of children. Teachers are not equipped to shape the learning-teaching process accordingly and to respond accordingly, and the education system does not focus on individual needs. On the other hand, the new approach also requires a response to changes in the way the world is evolving, including the growth of information, the way information is accessed and processed, and the various complex challenges it faces. It would be essential to reconcile these two needs with pedagogical practice. Since the early 2000s, with the HEFOP1 and TÁMOP2 programmes and the development of competence-based education packages, there has been a move towards a modern pedagogical approach in Europe and the world. Unfortunately, there has also been some backsliding
    in the last period.
  • In my view, it is mainly alternative schools that are moving towards education that meets current needs, and it is mainly individual and small community initiatives that are making efforts to give space to the outside world in schools. So the positive shift is mainly along personal lines: teachers who are more open, more flexible, who reflect on their own professional role and teaching practice are moving towards modernity. In other words, they are trying to move beyond the textbook and the traditional, now outdated "I am the source of knowledge" approach.
  • But often, even trained teachers do not receive the right quality and quantity of support, or the tools to make real change happen. The various self-organising groups on the internet and social networking sites are also making a big contribution to progress, but I feel that their spread and impact is not yet at the rate it should be at the beginning of the 21st century.

What are the challenges for schools at organisational level?

  • Despite the slow progress in pedagogical renewal, I see an increasing number of schools that are striving to adapt to today's needs and are taking on the challenge of the many new tasks and learning processes and changes.
  • On the other hand, the institutions are faced with new challenges in dealing with the tensions arising from changing expectations. Tensions can arise, for example, from the presence of teachers with modern methods in many institutions with traditional pedagogical principles, who are often marginalised because of their small numbers in the teaching staff and without the support of school management.
  • Tension can be caused by several different expectations of the school at the same time. Whether the institution can reconcile these different demands, and whether it has a mission, a vision, a vision of what it wants to meet most, is a crucial question for the school leadership.

In other words, the development of the school is vulnerable to the management of the institution on the one hand, and to the orientation of the whole education system on the other. In addition, there is a strong expectation from, for example, middle-class parents, who are more able to assert their own interests than disadvantaged families. We also see tensions arising between institutions, in that schools that are traditionally more prestigious or that start out on a more modern path tend to be more attractive to families who are open to the world. In many cases this leads to institutional competition for children within a locality and can soon create huge disparities between schools. Of course, smaller
or among institutions teaching and educating disadvantaged children, there are also forward-looking solutions where, due to the need, school leaders are stepping forward and are able to turn the disadvantaged situation into a positive one. This is obviously helped by the various tendering opportunities, open to all, which encourage schools to modernise in a real way, although unfortunately these have diminished.

What are the new paths that an institution can take towards development and modernity?

The search for solutions leads schools down many different paths. Some, for example, are trying to broaden their horizons, their ideas about subjects or even their broader pedagogical approach. There are many different pedagogical initiatives in the world of education, which are open to institutions or teachers to join. There are not only newly launched but also long-established pedagogical programmes and networks, such as the Step by Step programme, for which I have been able to follow the learning process as a professional leader. In addition to the positive results and progress, my overall view is that, without support, communication of this type of programme reaches very few people, and is not systemic.
and their spread and persistence become possible. Yet these initiatives can have a major impact on the modernisation of the pedagogical culture of schools, the professional development of teachers and the shaping of attitudes.

How has the Step by Step programme contributed to this? What brought it to life?

The Step-by-Step programme is a system of support for the development of an autonomous personality, independent critical thinking, self-development, moral and ethical behaviour based on democratic principles and supporting individual development. Its main principles are diversity, an attitude and tools to support multiculturalism, including individual development needs and personal development. 3 The child-centred pedagogical programme Step by Step is highlighted in an interview with Terézia Radicsné Szerencsés (former head of the Kiskőrösi EGYMI) on pages 52-62 of our volume "Apples on the tree - School leaders in equitable education". > Publications > 2015;
The website of the Step by Step programme is available at

The programme focuses on the relationship with the family, the high level of continuous training and support for teachers, the creation of a learner-friendly learning environment conducive to successful learning, and the use of modern learning management methods in line with the principles: cooperative learning, project-based learning, differentiated learning management. The programme has been developed by the Open Society Institute (OSI) in the USA, with a focus on improving the situation in Eastern Europe after the change of regime, not only in education but also in a much wider context of cultural, social and health development. In Hungary, the pre-school programme was introduced in 1994, followed by the school programme in the 1996/97 school year. In the initial period, our basic aim was to make the Step by Step programme as widely known as possible to schools and teachers. The introduction of the programme received considerable financial and professional support, which enabled us to involve a large number of nursery schools and schools (most of which have continued to operate with a similar mindset and spirit) and to train a large number of teachers. The dynamics of the development of the programme or the use of tools to promote its widespread dissemination have always depended to a large extent on the educational policies of the time, the opportunities they provided, the direction of public education and the external support system and financial resources. In the early years, until the launch of the TAMOP programmes, the programme was practically on the increase. We could reflect on how to reach more people while maintaining or improving the high professional quality in the long term. The fact that it is no longer possible to obtain funding to involve teachers in the programme makes the situation more difficult. The transfer of the Step by Step approach and the provision of methodological support are, of course, still an important objective, with 250 institutions having been involved from 1998 to 2013 and nearly 100 in the last four years.
We estimate that around 450 teachers have used the programme or one of its components (based on the number of participants in the training sessions), and in the last four years, nearly 600 teachers have participated in the various professional sessions linked to the programme.

What has been the learning process over the last two decades of the programme's participants, experts and trainers?

The continuous maintenance and development of high professional standards and the professional support of teachers are among the core objectives and values of Step by Step. At the start of the programme, following the initial training, we were able to attend in-house training sessions run by the trainer team, meeting regularly two or three times a year. The induction, the joint preparation for the training and the experience of the training were all important lessons learned. We decided together on new professional directions, i.e. which of the problems in education to reflect more on and which professional areas to deepen, and our international organisation, ISSA, played a major role in this. There were always prominent, central themes, such as
such as prejudice management, different skills development programmes, parental involvement in the learning process. These training programmes were developed with the participation of 10 to 15 countries and were the result of collaborative learning. Professional progress was also facilitated by the involvement of most of the programme's trainers in the development of the HEFOP methodological programmes5 and in the delivery of the training courses. This has enabled us to apply the basic learning management methods that were originally only tangentially covered in the Step-by-Step programme. The overall goal of ISSA (International Step by Step Association) is to create an inclusive, quality education and learning environment in which all children can become active members of a knowledge-based, democratic society. See more at: 5 Methodological materials developed under HEFOP 2.1.A and HEFOP 2.1.B:
Lesson differentiation:
Shaded pupil evaluation:
Activity-based pedagogies:

These topics have been developed in much more depth and awareness through the methodological packages,
essential for modern learning. It is also a huge achievement in our learning process,
that nearly ten years of work have resulted in a quality assurance system that is available to all countries.
and guarantees the high professional quality of the programme's implementation. Another essential element is the way in which the American trainers conducted the training courses during the period of the programme's introduction in Hungary,
was still completely new or only marginally present in national practice, and in teacher training at all
was not observed. From the very beginning, experiential learning has distinguished our programme's training from traditional forms of continuing training. We have selected a very wide range of tools, we have constantly expanded them, and we have regularly shared and continue to share what we have learnt in training. In this sense, the Step-by-Step programme is a constantly evolving, renewing, mutually reinforcing and supportive system, where learning and development are continuous. The basis for the programme and its professional development are also the teachers who, during the first period of its implementation, received a very wide-ranging and in-depth professional and methodological training of around 300 hours over a period of three to four years. Over time, they became our trainers, on whom we based further training, and around whom small groups of teachers mostly gathered in their own schools. In fact, these school
the later methodological centres were established in Pécs, Kiskőrös and Miskolc.


How has the creation of the centres supported and helped the learning process, the continuous professional

The centres were set up in 2002 with the aim of providing in-service training that would include direct classroom experience, as these sessions reveal much more about the essence of the Step by Step programme than anything else. In other words, we advertised our trainer-led foundation courses in the methodological centres, as well as the accompanying demonstration lessons and workshops, which were given by teachers from the school in question. The centres were set up where there were teachers with the necessary professional background, similar pedagogical attitudes, open-minded and trained teachers working with the same methods, so that we were sure that the principles and the approach of the programme were being properly transmitted and communicated, and where there was cooperation and mutual support between teachers. There was a period of nearly ten years when the interruption of funding led to the termination of the formal operation of the Foundation and the Centres which provided the operational framework for the programme, but despite this, the programme continued to thrive in practice thanks to a strong professional base and knowledge sharing. In 2014, the Partners Hungary Foundation took over the coordination of the Step-by-Step programme, and a major grant has given a new impetus to the operation. We have further developed the work of the methodological centres by organising thematic mini-conferences open to all.
The Partners Hungary Foundation has been building relationships between people and communities since 1994.
through projects and training in mediation, cooperation development and education development. Although there is a very mixed picture of the depth and quality of the application of the programme by schools and teachers, I think it is very important that colleagues regularly participate in these knowledge-sharing forums. The professional
our development is also supported by our participation in international programmes such as the Creative Partnership, an ongoing OECD pilot programme for artists (e.g. performers, visual artists, architects,
multimedia professionals, painters) are creative ways to help teachers and students learn effectively. Several classes from one of our methodological centres in Pécs are involved in the measurements, while our centre in Miskolc and a school in Kaposvár also participate in the control measurements. The exciting results of the project will serve as a reference for us in the future. We are also planning to develop the mini professional networks that have been established in the vicinity of the centres into real, sustainable networks and collaborative learning groups, drawing on the experience of our participation in the Tempus Public Foundation's EFFeCT pilot programme. Although it does not involve financial support, the fact that all three of our methodological centres have become Education Office base institutions in the new education system may also contribute to sustainability.


What is the motivation for teachers or schools to join the Step by Step programme?

Sometimes, it is the achievement of institutional objectives that motivates the participation in the programme, because the school leader wants to improve and modernise the institution and support his/her colleagues to participate in workshops, open days and training. At the same time, I believe that the spread of the programme is mostly shaped by personal motivations: open-minded teachers who are aware of the changing world, the change in children's interests, attention and motivation, who know that it is very difficult to achieve results or work without tension using traditional means, since learning difficulties are often accompanied by behavioural and socialisation problems. These are the main drivers for teachers who come to us to find solutions. I find that many of my colleagues have the same approach as the programme, but are not available. The Creative Partnership methodology was developed in the UK and has since been used in several countries, currently in Lithuania, Norway, Germany and the Czech Republic. In Hungary, in the 2013/14 academic year, the programme was launched on a pilot basis in seven member institutions of the Budai Városkapu Primary School, Vocational School, Special Vocational School and Primary Art School in Pécs, in cooperation with the Faculty of Arts of the University of Pécs, T-Tudok Knowledge Management and Educational Research Centre Ltd. and the UK-based Creativity, Culture and Education organisation. For more information, see 8 See the summary of the EFFeCT international project coordinated by the Tempus Public Foundation's Knowledge Management Unit on page 43 of this volume. 9 The Education Office's base institution is an education and training institution with a recognised professional tradition at county, district or national level, with an infrastructure equipped to fulfil its tasks, with a unique and exemplary infrastructure, with a coherent, inclusive, child-centred pedagogical practice, a professional methodological and organisational culture and innovation, which is capable of sharing knowledge effectively and to a high standard in its field. The base institutions will be selected through a competitive selection process from different types of institutions.

Of course, the Step-by-Step programme does not solve all these problems, but it helps to create a harmonious coexistence and a positive atmosphere in the classroom, which is beneficial for teachers and children alike. The focus on individual interest, creativity and creativity leads to a state of emotional well-being which I believe is highly motivating and very professionally stimulating.

How can teachers bring this knowledge back to their own institutions? Is it necessary
to take over the whole programme?

Step by Step is a very open programme, where the principles are the most important and the tools are adapted to them at different levels. It is therefore conceivable that, without taking on board the full toolkit, teachers will take only a simple element of the programme back to school. For example, some basic rituals can be easily adopted and integrated into daily practice, such as the morning or end-of-day discussion group, whose positive impact is almost immediate because it loosens traditional roles and one-way communication.

As I have already mentioned, the involvement of parents is an extremely important element of the programme, unlike the subordinate-above-par relationship that is common in the Hungarian school system. The Step by Step programme sees parents not just as a client, but as an educational partner who knows the child best. We don't just invite the parent into the school to sand the table or paint the wall, but through a series of activities and collaborations we also try to bring in the parents' knowledge, skills and emotions. Linked to this, each class - being lower school - has a class ball that is taken home by a family for a weekend visit. A diary is also kept of the visit, which is incredibly educational for families: it is amazing to see how such a very simple element - reading each other's entries - can have a positive impact on the functioning of a family and how it can develop the parent. Evaluation is also an essential part of the programme. Grading is a centuries-old tradition in the Hungarian public education system today, which contradicts all the principles that the programme represents. The Step by Step programme, similar to the practice in reform pedagogy or alternative schools, seeks to place grading in its proper place in the assessment process, i.e. a final assessment where it has a function, and in addition or alongside it, a continuous, reinforcing, developmental feedback. The assessment is linked to a so-called dossier system in the programme, the adoption and use of which is also very helpful: it leads the teacher to collect the different student work instead of marking everything with a mark. So, we believe that it is not necessarily the whole programme that is needed to initiate change, but that the adoption of one element by colleagues can have a big impact on the state of the class, the children or the teacher.

Do you have feedback on what teachers get from the programme?

I think the most important thing that a teacher can get, apart from the attitude formation, is a set of tools that they don't get to this depth in teacher training or in the in-service training system. The quality assurance system mentioned earlier provides them with additional tools for professional development and reflection. Self-development based on self-reflection and the use of tools and methods related to the organisation of learning are very important. An open and flexible approach is often a solution to problems that depend mainly on external factors, such as the learning environment, which requires financial resources. It is not just a question of rearranging the desks, but also of providing the learning process with the necessary tools: from books to teaching aids, from paper to glue. In one municipality, for example, where 4-5 teachers started the programme, one class had only fixed benches. Old desks discovered by one teacher in the school storeroom were refurbished with the help of parents,
and because of the lack of chairs, each child brought one from home - now there are all kinds of chairs, the classroom is colourful. This also shows that constraint often breeds creativity and openness to the outside world, which also contributes to the
contributes to development.

What kind of cooperation will be established between the teachers participating in the programme? How
can you support this programme?

There has always been a lively and close relationship between the three large bases of the methodological centres, through the workshops, sessions and mini-conferences mentioned above, which provide an opportunity for colleagues to exchange personal experiences and initiate small collaborations. The need to exploit the potential of online community spaces has not been addressed before, neither at a theoretical nor at a practical level, but has recently become more urgent. Our participation in the pilot programme of the EFFeCT project has also provided us with a lot of inspiration in this respect. In the summer of 2016, 39 teachers from Mezőfalva, Mohács and Kiskőrös took part in the Step by Step Methodology Centre in Kiskőrös, who later participated in a pilot project of the EFFeCT project.
have become members of a collaborative learning group. In order to teach more effectively using the Step-by-Step method, they visited each other, observed and evaluated each other's work. It was not an easy learning process, but it served an important purpose to facilitate knowledge sharing and the transfer of ideas and thoughts through these online platforms, in addition to offline meetings or exchanges between school teams/workgroups. The implementation of the pilot programme has shown us the incredible impact that online collaboration - even just in the form of a Facebook group - can have between teachers who want to learn and develop.
They are now uploading a mass of different exercises and descriptions to the common platform. I think the potential for further progress in this area is huge. Of course, there is much more than pedagogical expertise that is needed to succeed, but we definitely plan to launch online professional networks in the future, both large and small. We would like to organise a support system around the programme to support the efforts and work of the methodological centres.

What would you highlight as one of the values and achievements of the programme?

I think that the most important achievement of the programme is its ambition - in theory and in practice - to synthesise the so-called child-centred pedagogical elements that are emerging across the world of education. Quality development is a great help in this respect, as it also provides guidance on how to integrate these elements, methods and tools in a way that is appropriate to the teacher's personality, situation and circumstances. The second point I would like to emphasise is that the programme does not provide the teacher with a ready-made solution, it does not say
how this and that should be done, but it also leads the teacher to evaluate his/her own situation, to formulate his/her goals and to choose the tools. Of course, change and professional development are not necessarily the result of the programme alone, as gaps and needs also force some teachers to become open and open-minded. The programme itself and the teachers working in it provide a very good model for this. The third thing I would like to highlight from the point of view of the participants in the programme is continuous self-development,
continuous professional development. We need to find all the tools that can support this, both individually and through learning together.

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