Searching for Superman – interview to read in English

Searching for Superman is an amazing project about inspiring, alternative & innovative educational projects and schools across the globe. David Fernández Graña and Amaia Maguregui are travelling from school to school and they are creating a documentary about their findings. Be it Montessori, Waldorf, democratic schools or any other innovative, alternative school, they are visiting!

To date they have travelled well over 8000 kilometers, visited schools in France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, the Balkans, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and now they arrived to Budapest, visiting Real School Budapest. There we had a chance to talk about the project and plans before they set off to Vienna, Austria.

– Welcome to Budapest! It’s a long journey for you and a very exciting project. Just tell us more about this project and what started in you to leave your home and then start this long travel to find different schools?

So first of all, we take it as a personal experience to travel, to meet other people, to know other cultures, but also, if you like, a professional experience. I am a teacher-trainer in Spain. So I work with teachers from primary schools and secondary schools, trying to help them with different stuff in their schools. So I was thinking about traveling the world and taking advantage of it. At the same time, creating something valuable for the people, for everybody.

My partner, Amaia is a professional photographer and videographer too. So we decided to visit the schools looking for inspiration. This is our idea and our ambition. We are trying to gather all this information and to give it away to everybody. So anybody can use these inspiration in the schools. It doesn’t matter if it is a public school, a private school. I think we have already found several instruments, methodologies and also a mindset that can be applied. It doesn’t matter the context or the culture, the culture matters but in this case, we think that we all are human beings. We can play with that idea.

Where did you start? And then are you heading now? So what is the journey?

So the journey started in October 2018, in Bilbao, the Basque country in Spain. So we took our van, which is not very well prepared for living and doing all the things you have to do in your daily, but still good. So we crossed France, then we we entered Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia. We entered the Balkans and then we arrived to Greece. Then we went up crossing Bulgaria, Romania and now we are in Hungary.

The plan for next two months is to arrive to Bilbao and post-produce a specific documentary we are doing in parallel with Searching for Superman, which is the main project on schools in Europe. We stayed in Bosnia Herzegovina for three months doing a specific work about the systemic segregation. I mean, they have three different curriculums depending on the ethnicity of the students, if they are Serbs, Croats or Bosniaks.

This is systemic segregation because depending on the curriculum they choose they go to separate schools. Also, in the same school, they are separated in the national subjects in history, geography and language. So we wanted to introduce in the country this idea: a school for all of us is possible. Trying also to create a change in the mindset of the teachers and the people on everything. 

So we are going back to Bilbao for this but in September we are starting again, travelling the North of Europe. We are going into Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Scandinavia to finish the travel probably in Finland. Then come back again and “Searching for Superman” would be produced at the end of next year.

– It is quite an impressive journey with a lot of cities and a lot of schools that you visit. The world is changing in so many ways and there are so many different cultures even in Europe within all these countries. Is there any one big theme that you see common in these schools or is there any big similarities that you noticed when you visit all these schools?

Yes, I think many. But if I would say one specifically, it’s been very important for me that the schools are trying to re-humanize education.

I mean, they are trying to put the focus on relations and growing the human being from the inside.

Trying to also focus on their well-being and the passions and not only developing the knowledge with the focus on the content in the curriculum. So they are taking care more about the emotional development of the students and also the teachers. I mean for learning the key aspect in the schools is the relation between teachers and the students and the students among themselves.

If I have to say one thing, I would say this: we have found nonviolent communication, a really, really important tool that is being used in many, many schools to make the relation between people stronger.

Making the problems they have, for example, in their daily life visual, more visual. So they can solve them easier this way.

That’s very interesting. I know that nonviolent communication is used in several different alternative schools in Hungary. It’s a very good technique, so I’m a big believer of that. What was your biggest surprise in terms of differences? What are the biggest extremes that you have seen in that many schools you visited?

Well, I would say that we have visited different kinds of schools with different approaches like Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia and, schools that are mixing different worlds, different methodologies. Sometimes we think that for the teachers it’s easier to follow one methodology, one method, because it is like a recipe. So now do these after these steps. But for me, the biggest surprise is that many people who are not rigid in that mindset. So they are very open and flexible and they are trying to incorporate to their schools the best things from different worlds.

Searching for Superman

For example, from Reggio Emilia for kindergarten or from a Montessori to try to foster the self-directed learning thanks to the materials the kids have around them. They are taking advantage from Waldorf to develop the inner self of each person thanks to art and the contact with natural materials. I would say for example democratic school or democratic education they are taking advantage of: “OK, we’re building a school that is for everybody.” So we are taking into account the opinion of everybody to take the decisions on the school.

Another example at Real School Budapest I see many passionate teachers. I mean, this is also key. I see teachers with great knowledge, but also teachers who are inspiration for their kids because they are so passionate. They spend time to develop different kind of projects and engaging the kids on them.

It can be sometimes quite hard to travel and do all this long journey. What was the hardest for you in that personally?

Traveling, you mean? I think the winter. You know, our van is not very big, it is actually the smallest of vans, a Multivan. So it is getting harder and harder to live in this. We are planning to change the van. We are planning to buy a new one, probably a bigger one. The most interesting schools are in the cities, in the major cities. It can be hard to stay in a city to find a parking place where you can park and live.

Also you have to be very careful. Somebody around, if they can see you, maybe they call the police if you are parked in a residential area, so you have to be careful about that, if you want to be close to the schools you are going to visit. So for me it is that part, living in a very small space and also sharing with my partner, Amaia, who is my girlfriend. So that’s also a challenge for us as a couple, to deal with this situation that you are on a very small space, I would say that.

I’m a strong believer that we are learning throughout our lives, we are learning all the time. What did you learn so far from this journey? Was there any specific new thing that you realized?

For me the biggest learning is that you have to be flexible and you have to adapt, because as you’ve said before, the world is changing and it is changing very fast. So you have to adapt. And if you have the skill of adapting very easily, you can be happy with anything, almost anything.

Also, if traveling, we are traveling very low budget. We’re living a very simple life. So what we have learned from that is that we need very little things for living. So when we come up to Spain. When we come back, we’ll be well, I think we have already made a big change in our lifestyle, taking into account that.

I have realized that happiness is not about buying stuff, but about enjoying the simple things in life. 

– Tell us a little bit about your plans. So when you get back to Bilbao, you mentioned that you are working on a film about this long learning and long journey.

Yes. So our plans for the future is that we have right now two projects: “Searching for Superman”, which is the biggest one, and “A school for all of us”, which is a documentary about the Bosnian education system. We are going back to Bilbao to finish the post-production of that film, the Bosnian film, because we want to enter a film festival and the submission deadline is at the end of May. This is not a film only because we are working also with local organisations (NGOs) and teachers’ training organisations because we want to give them the movie.

The movie is going to be like a teacher training tool so they can use it for giving trainings, for fostering discussions in local communities, in the cities, in the schools.

After that, in September, we are starting again with Searching for Superman. We want to do another school year travelling and visiting the most innovative schools in the north of Europe. So I think we are going to find some interesting schools over there. And meanwhile, what we are doing is publishing all the interviews we do at the school so that people can already have access to that information, which is very valuable. By the end of the next year, I want to finish the movie, I don’t know if that will be possible.

We need the resources for that, so we will probably organise a crowdfunding campaign to be able to finance some part of the production or post-production and we will see. We want to do a premier, a very special premier of the movie. We want to do it the same day in different countries in Europe, with the help of the schools we have already visited. So they can be like the coordinators of the places where you can go to see the film. So we have that in mind, we have to do more brainstorming, but that’s the idea.

That’s great, thanks a lot and best of luck for you throughout this journey! I encourage everyone who listened to this recording or who reads the article about you to give some support in financial terms as well, because it’s a very important mission and I’m very glad that we had the opportunity to discuss your learnings and plans.

Thank you so much. It has been my pleasure!

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