By Raquel Armendariz Sucunza, Global Schools Project Lead (Communications)
Mentors are key members of the Advocacy Program at Global Schools Program (GSP). As former advocates, they provide their mentees with all sorts of support, from connecting them with other teachers worldwide to providing them with toolkits, activities ideas, and more. One of these Mentors is Maria Stella Ficai from Italy, who, during her mentorship, was able to spread a feeling of empathy with her mentees while organizing monthly meetings and sharing her experiences to inspire them and create awareness about Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).
Interview with Maria Stella Ficai
Maria Stella is an Italian Advocate and Mentor of GSP and an English Literature and Global Citizenship Education (GCE) teacher at Rondine Cittadella della Pace, Arezzo-Italy. She currently teaches GCE to a group of 30+ students who come from all over Italy to attend a transformative peace education program based on the interconnection of SDG 4 and 16. Given the importance of SDG Target 4.7 to children and young people, her school, with the leadership of Stella, has embraced Mission 4.7. The High School Peace Program is the extension of the first program addressed to university students which started in 1998.
Stella is also a member of the editing team of the Rondine Method in Italian Secondary Schools, an educational program recognized by the Italian Ministry of Education, which has been implemented in 14 High Schools in Italy in 2022-2023 and about 30 high schools will implement in the school year 2023- 2024. Stella firmly believes that the path of transformative learning aims to instill in learners the values, attitudes, and behaviors that support responsible global citizenship: creativity, innovation, and commitment to peace, human rights, and sustainable development. For her, the Rondine Method proposes just that, a new transdisciplinary way of entangling subject disciplines not simply as acquisition of knowledge and skills but as important activities with the potential to make a real impact on one’s life and one’s community. Stella also serves as a mentor for 14 public high schools that are implementing this method.
Most recently, Stella embarked on a new position as a Project Advisor for the new EUROMED program 2023-24 for young people across Europe and Mediterranean countries who are willing to solve conflicts. Her mission in this new role is to make an educational force for Peace and Sustainability in the region.
Tell us more about your Mentoring role and what it means to you.
As a Mentor, I feel honored and privileged for the role GSP has given me. My appointment as a mentor has honed my leadership skill which I improved throughout the GS training process. The Mentor‘s toolkit has provided me with key information and support to accomplish my mission. I dedicated my first meeting to getting to know my mentees and their school context, investing time in building a collaborative team of teachers. We presented our school communities and discussed the characteristics of everyone’s school context. I tried to convey passion, enthusiasm, and desire for cooperation so everyone felt encouraged to invest in our relationship and trust as a starting point for effective collaboration. The following meetings were dedicated to sharing my journey as a Global Schools Advocate in order to inspire my mentees and share best practices. We covered teaching aspects, class organization, lesson planning, and time management in order to integrate the SDGs into the Italian national curricula.
The experience of mentorship has been a unique opportunity for critical reflection on my teaching approach. Communicating with my mentees and sharing my ESD projects has made me develop more awareness and self-confidence about my new vision and mission as a global educator. As a mentor, I have improved my professional and human-centric skills and my communication and listening skills. This implies that I’m a good listener, and I’ve accepted the challenge of implementing inspiring practices by listening to other teachers with lots of competence, ideas, and solutions. I have developed unexpected creativity and a desire for methodology innovation. They make me grow from a personal and professional point of view.
What is the most meaningful part of your work?
I think it is inspiring other colleagues to accept the challenge of integrating ESD into the National Curriculum by communicating passion, purpose, and motivation to transform education. The goal is to implement a culture of innovation in as many Italian schools as possible, a revised framework for developing the capacities of young people to become solutionist and change-makers to achieve the SDGs. Teachers who spread expertise and motivation are contagious, they contribute to achieving mission 4.7, so mentoring is key to elevating education to equip young people with the skills to create a more inclusive, cohesive, and productive world. Mentoring also helped teachers raise their own awareness of SD issues and reflect on their own beliefs and values, as well as on their classroom practice
What are some things you learned from your Mentees?
Mentorship is a great opportunity for learning and being inspired by other teachers’ practices and methodology. My mentees belong to different types of schools from early- age and primary school to high school. It was illuminating and inspiring to share the methodology and class management with different age groups of children. I have gained more knowledge and creative ideas about how you can create and implement a revised vertical framework embedding ESD from early age to high school. My mentees are talented and creative teachers, I was inspired by listening to their proposals and projects.
What led you to decide to become an Advocate in the first place?
I have always been fond of intercultural connections. In my school, I have organized intercultural exchanges to the US for more than 20 years, as our sister schools are in Boston and New York. My mission is to give students chances to connect and appreciate other cultures, the experience of a lifetime.
Traveling to the US and exchanging best practices with my American colleagues has enabled me to focus on the UN Agenda 2030 since 2015. I was inspired to improve my knowledge and competence in Global Citizenship Education. As I said before, my mission is to make education a force for peace and sustainability in Italy, Europe, and Mediterranean countries, which eventually led me to become an Advocate.
How and where do you find inspiration for your SDGs-related activities/work as a GS advocate and Mentor?
My inspirational books are Professor F. Reimers’s and Professor J. Sachs as well as his lessons and videos by the SDG Academy.
I applied for the Global Schools Program in 2021 and became an Advocate, and a Mentor, GSP’s illuminating training and the GSP Team’s insightful support have honed my skills and competence as a global educator.
I am lucky to teach at a unique peace school in Tuscany-Italy, whose main goal is transformative peace education to empower young people to become active local and global citizens, solutionist, and change-makers to achieve SDG4 and 16. Rondine’s education system and relational approach play a key role in designing the values and norms that enable positive human interaction, we foster human-centric skills-cooperation, empathy, social awareness, and global citizenship that enable children to shape inclusive and equitable future societies.
What is one thing you wish to tell current and future Global Schools advocates?
I would like to tell them that they should invest time in building trust in the classroom and focus on creating a learning environment in which motivation and sense of purpose are key to empowering students to learn, share, and act for the SDGs. It is fundamental to create a culture of innovation, teamwork, interdisciplinary problem-solving, and a kind of empowerment that gives students the confidence they need to take action. They should dedicate time to students’ global interactions.