Friday, March 21, 2014

Looking through the eyes of inspiration

The Learning and Neuro-Development Research Center is very happy because we have an international interview today, we will share some ideas from Russia, since we have the honor to talk with Irina Pechonkina.

LNDRC: Irina is an English teacher and philologist by education, whom believes in humanism as ideology, and she explains with her own words her passions:

Irina Pechonkina: To Alvin Toffer "The illiterate of the 21-st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those, who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn"

Lifelong learning is my credo. I was born in a family of the all-round, universal personalities- thus; my self-made dad had 3 MDs in medicine, aviation, and history. I learned myself reading when I was 5 years old.

My first poetic work was published when I was 10 years old, and my first scenario was realized when I was 20 years old. 

I had changed from schools during my childhood, so I studied in Tukums (Latvia), Chernyakhovsk, Step (Transbaikalia), Torzhok region, Irkutsk (Siberia). This makes me happy, because I have been experiencing 4 types of education systems. They are 1. Soviet System of education, 2. Dneprov's reform, 3."Our new school" with "money coming after a student" and USE, 4. National (Federal) Education Standards (on the humanistic foundation)!!.
So I can tell Soviet system was linear and almost Spartan. It was extremely boring. We couldn't use another sources besides of textbooks at school.

- LNDRC:  How did this impact in your life?

Irina Pechonkina: This is very helpful in my life, because I have the ability to use genetically earning information of archetypes in a trice. The dual strategy and tactics, being either "artist" or "logic" helps in our changing world. My two higher educations in two universities were free and extremely productive. My professors were enthusiastic, creative, highly intelligent and universal (salt of our earth). Thus, my favorite professor Rubanovich was an enthusiastic professor, humanistic teacher and children's writer.

So learning languages and cultures, writing scenarios, performing, singing with a guitar, winning the 3rd grade in sport gymnastics, participating in scientific society of students, in dialectological, folklore experience programs, construction team, festivals and what not - were happy pages of my academic life. 

-LNDRC: How did this systems influence your life?

Irina Pechonkina: All my school life -morally pure and with strong discipline- was politicized and highly ideology-driven. Nevertheless, I think, I got a good education through the method of repetition, memorization of texts, hacking of the articles and poems from the textbooks, learning from simple to complex.

All these methods were structural and led to quality of knowledge. It resulted in my phenomenal memory. Knowledge like idioms was automatically retrieved out from memory in ready forms. Teachers' activity was hypertrophied with hard taming of left hemisphere. It was characteristic of algorithmic logical manipulation of bare information in humanities, discrete step-by-step teaching and repetition without any possibilities for development of creativity.

Surely, my brain was revolted by the system and found an appropriate outcome. My thirst for reading, writing, traveling, communicating as well as love of nature, art, theatre, music, religion, and also diverse cultures led to harmonization of my hemispheres. Theoretical constructs plus experience, adaptation, imagination and the highest moral values of my family- compliance, mutual understanding, moral synergy, empathy, compassion- resulted in forming asymmetric "cyclotomic" type (left-bright).

During this period I'd read, published and learned a lot. Our Regional Teachers' Training Institute, Yaroslavl SU, Novosibirsk SU, state initiative "Our new school", Russian-American program "Teachers to Teachers", "The First of September", VATE, NATE (National Association of teachers of English)  (MSU, VSU) with their famous scientific leaders, helped me in my self-actualization. To me, personal-oriented approach is very important in education both to a student and to a teacher. According to my theory of major I-conception, it consists of 3 items: I-conception of administration (creating of appropriate environment for personal realization), I-conception of teachers (objectification of subjective I), students (the situation of success). Success includes intellectual-creative abilities, will qualities, initiative, understanding of culture, social, civil competences, health. Besides, content (fundamental kernel), ways, methods, technologies, reflecto practices, organization of social lift working are required. From 2003 till 2011 I had realized my conception on reflective culture forming through a long-term cross-cultural project. The 8-steps are presupposition, anticipation, problematization, immersion, visualization, interpretation, creation, and integration. The basic elements are eternal moral values- from Aristotle- beauty, truth, good. The content is classics. I prefer stylization, arts integration, a polylogue of cultures, aesthetic symbols, IT, masks del'arte, social roles so that we can be nearer to the natural situation. Unfortunately we obliged to learn English in the artificial situation of communication. Every detail must be "natural" and beautiful. 

I adore method of thinking in depth, outside the box, discursive approach, active learning strategies. The main intrigue is seeking to unravel the mystery. Aims- enhancing the communicative competences on semantic-cognitive- pragmatic-motivational level through classics, national-regional component, polylogue of cultures and arts, synergy. Reflective culture forming, development of critical thinking, creativity, synesthesia. Shaping of socio-cultural, value-meaning, compensatory competences, personal culturedigm, culture of peace, love for native homeland. Rendering the atmosphere of tuning the students on a cultural-historical wave. Their names are lessons of moral linguistics in the school of discursive reflection.

-       LNDRC:  What did all these give you?

Irina Pechonkina: Then I received some invitations for working in the newspaper and then on TV, but after graduating from my university we moved to Voronezh. I began working in school and felt drag. My brain appeared to be hungry, that's why I entered the Linguistic University and I felt very much at home there. In addition, Soviet system is considered one of the best in the world. It was free of charge and free to all. Those days there were no terrorism, drugs, violence, ethnic hatred and conflicts, mass depression, aggression in our country.

 Every human was sure in his/her future and guaranteed loaf of bread, roof over his/her head and job. We went for a walk at nights and were not afraid of anybody. There was a very good system for entering the university. Thus, we passed exams to our teachers, and then we passed the exams on the same questions in the universities. There were rabfak (worker's school for guaranteed entering the universities), full-time course, or part-time. Every student could have part-time work and get a scholarship. An interesting fact from my school life: my school was the best in our city and Ministry of Education offered me as a gifted child- a place in MSU "hors concourse".

-        LNDRC:  How were those days to Higher Education? How was to students?

Irina Pechonkina: There were a lot of students entering our universities from all over the world. I'd like to stress some cons in Soviet Union- only "steadfast Iskraists", or "nomenklatura" could make success in career. Government interfered in religion. I think, the most terrible things were "cold war", or  iron curtain". It was ugly and ridiculous to forbid English rock bands and BBC. You see, I was "a girl vice versa", that's why it motivated me to learn English and to listen to "Jesus Christ is a superstar" and to sing, "Smoke on the water" to the guitar.

-       LNDRC:  How is Educational System in Russia?

Irina Pechonkina: School system had been rapidly changing; we turned out to be free from traditional classical teaching in sociogenic, didactic-centric, information, authoritarian, mass school in the reckless 90-s. It was modified in "authoritarian-democratic" system of education. To me, Dneprov's reform (1992) was a greatest event in new Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I returned from Germany to Voronezh and began working as a vice-director in the college (it had been a school before, but it became to an innovative institution- college, then it was named "lyceum").

A few words about Russian Education System:  Secondary education (in the chain of - pre-school- secondary- higher-postgraduate one) takes 11 years to complete. There are specialized schools- teaching and educational complexes, gymnasiums, lyceums, cadet schools, military schools, boarding schools, Sunday schools, religious gymnasiums, and schools, schools with profiles, schools with major subjects. Educational institutions may be state, municipal, private. After 9-th grade (compulsory) a pupil obtains a Certificate of Incomplete Secondary education and can go to a Community College or to the 10-11-th class.

Nowadays the country has more than 600 governmental higher education institutions and more than 400 nongovernmental Higher Education establishments and more than 1400 branches, and there are 3 degrees, that are conferred by universities- Bachelor's Degree - 4 years, Specialist's Degree - 5, 6 years, Master's degree- 6 years.

-       LNDRC what have been your goal working in Education?

Irina Pechonkina: Well, our college was one of the best schools in our city and we had a greatest opportunity to create. I wrote a conception "City of Masters"- a humanistic conception of the pedagogized environment, created by school. Our aim was "to look for "Mozart" in every child.

It consisted of a lot of collective, creative, research activities and relations. There were a lot of free hobby groups, study groups, societies on interests. I had worked out this conception for 8 years, had a lot of publications and reports on it in our region, and used universal scientific methods- observation, experiment, assessment, comparison etc. during qualitative and quantitative research. The results were rather good. I participated in the competition "The best vice-director of the year" and won the first place in our city. I was like a fountain and created near 100 scenarios, and poems. Ministry of Education, American guests, administration from other institutions visited us on the seminars, festivals, and conferences.

I think, the system of college was rather comfortable and effective. Our students passed exams every year, and we could rotate them according to their success in learning. Our students had advanced knowledge in Biology, Physics, Maths, History, and English. The 11-th form considered the first grade of one or another university. Exams were mainly oral with 1- 2 problems in writing. We introduced defense of a scientific project for our senior students. We had a right to choose textbooks and programs, we had 38 free hobby centers on interests in our college. There were a lot of professors from other universities among our pedagogical staff. Thanks to our conceptions and achievements of teachers and students, our institution had become a school of year twice, but this period was over and our college was named as "lyceum", the first grade of the higher education in our lyceum was eliminated. There were formed two alternative types of schools- "yard" (marginal) and "elite" in the result of reforms.

  LNDRC What is the pros and cons of Russian Educational System?

Irina Pechonkina: The period of 2000-2009-2012 had been famous for the experiment and introducing USE (Unified State Exam). On the one hand, the aim of imposing the test system was humanistic- "We shouldn’t loose Lomonosov" in the situation of high payment for higher education. USE was imposed as a form of combination of school finals and entrance exams. They supposed the equal opportunities for poor and rich students; however, this was not with standing of corruption.

 As we know, the main areas of the reformers are orientation on development of a personality, major "I-conception", forming competences and situation of success for every person in social integration, standardization of education for continuity of programs and unity of educational environment. 

In essence, USE causes destruction of the whole process of forming creativity and critical thinking. To some teachers, training on the tests is not productive. It's immoral, ineffective. It leads to degradation. It causes wild fear, weird forms of physical and moral control and humiliation, formalization of knowledge. 

Relatives of the students are afraid of CCTV (TV Channel that broadcast entirely in Russian), jammers, searches and other "measures" in fighting with using mobiles during USE. The main task of a student is to guess the right answer, that's why a teacher must train student's skills to automatism. It's rather boring, isn't it? Among minuses there are a lot of not very good textbooks with poor content, tests in textbooks have answers in the Internet, too. To pass USE a lot of students have recourse to private tutors. I think, USE is not very convenient. We hope on new forms of exams.

-LNDRC In your opinion, which is element than a teacher should develop?, what is the most important to you as a teacher?

Irina Pechonkina: "A teacher, like an artist, must heed only the call that arises within him from three strong voices- the voice of death with all its foreboding, the voice of love and the voice of art" G.Lorka.

My friend Alma Dzib Goodin says: "Talent is a door that we must open to students". Teachers must set challenging tasks for their students so that they can gain better knowledge and skills, increase their ability to solve different problems. Hard tasks give a possibility to find out something new, to increase skills and to be proud of yourself.

 Good teachers should provide such problems to their students. It's the only way to study. They say, if you sow a thought- you'll reap an act, if you sow an act- you'll reap a habit, if you sow a habit- you'll reap a character, if you sow a character- you'll reap a fate. To Sukhomlinsky: "It's intolerable, disgusting, when a teen feels adults wave their hands at him and consider him incapable. In school- a sacred place, where must be humanism and sensitivity- such sort of relationship we must consider monstrous. In school a child must only enjoy and take pride. He mustn't suffer, feel humiliation so that after leaving school he can live with a stiffen heart."

 To Prof. V.Vasilyev, "Belief of a teen in himself depends on satisfaction of results of his own activity", while to Bubler, "a human being finds his own being only through absorbing the universal". I adore Lamarti, when he explains: "If a human being loses at least one of the moral truth, the keeper of that there is humanitarian education, the human being as well as all mankind will perish.I'm sure- if our children don't read- read with them. If they can't appreciate beauty- unravel the mystery of beauty with them.You must teach them to find beauty in nature, arts, cultures, human relations.

There are two types of creative thinking- convergent-vertical and divergent-lateral, creative lack of implementation is one of the reasons of children's deadaptation. Creative human beings have got empathy, originality, plasticity of mind. They can enjoy their work, work efficiency. They are self-confident and experienced. They have an inner sense of "the banal". There are a lot of technologies- Osborn's table, the method of 636, the method of collective writing, brainstorming, mapping, synectics, Socratic method, creative workshop etc, etc.

 What is inadmissible as to creative persons? -Criticism, captivity, fear, time trouble, routine, rivalry, general bad conditions, the situation where neither regalia, nor privileges, disinterest... But I think, that even under pressure and humiliation a creative person is able to create for the sake of surviving. Nowadays I have got 4 jobs- in lyceum, Sunday school, Teachers' Training Institute, commercial courses. I have written more than 50 publications, have attended a lot of conferences and seminars all over the world, have won a lot of awards, and you know what? I'm still searching…

-       LNDRC which has been your hardest experience as a teacher?

Irina Pechonkina: I think, that the most important thing is to enable individuals to have equal rights and possibilities to education. That's why in this connection USE (in a new format) should be aimed at solving this social problem. You see, I have been fighting against stereotypes for the sake of human and humane. Well, the period of 2001-2009 was one of the hardest in education and schooling. 

Besides, my family moved to another region in the city. I'm proud, the products of my creativity and logical thinking were used in the right way by the entrepreneurial, resourceful leaders (may be, dealers) with right connections and I turned out to be... in the "yard" school domiciliary.

 In the "yard" school there were a lot of children from poor families. There were children from dormitories, single-parent families, even children of homeless bums, addicts and alcoholics. I admire the teachers, who could experience this period, who managed to remain humanistic and highly professional. The innovative schools were far from our location and the classroom was rather heterogeneous. My main aim was leveling my new students. My family helped me to equip my poverty-stricken, very cold cabinet with curtains, a tape-recorder, tables. 

My elder son painted the door and bought discs with English films in Moscow. From time to time I took a TV-set, which was one in school. Students could drink tea and listen to good music in my cabinet during breaks. I chose the textbooks "Hotline" and "Matrix" for my students. The program was approximate and I had a right to modify material of the textbooks. My ability to be absorbed by my work with children and the most valuable ability which is "to grasp at the straw" of creativity in a desperate attempt to save in the situation of despair -were very helpful. I felt benevolence for my students. I decided to harmonize their life. For their acculturation I saturated their life with sharpest emotions.

-       LNDRC If you would have all the money of the world, and no restriction to take decision to design a school, what would you include in it?

Irina Pechonkina: "If you skimp on schools, you'll go bankrupt on prisons"(Yamburg). If I would have all the money of the world, and no restriction to take decision to design a school, I would include it in my fairy tale 'City of Masters'. It would be a real city, consisting of 3 buildings for every age category in the Gothic style. There would be few conference halls, transformation library, hair salon, game room, labs for research, teachers' room with cafe, recreation (relaxation) room, Planetarium, halls with soft furniture, cabinets with individual computers, room with musical instruments, room-studio, museum, rooms for home economics, wood shop, auto shop, metal work, interior garden, park, Zoo, "London eye".

 It would be three tasteful and healthy meals in a big modern canteen, shooting gallery, and bowling. Surely, it would be Western-style renovation. My long-life dream is to build a health-improving complex with 2 swimming pools, with extended therapeutic infrastructure, inhalatorium, halo chamber, massage, diets, solarium, herbal therapy, gymnasium, aerobics studio, out-of-room sanatorium. There would be some buses and cars. In other words, club, medical, research, relax infrastructure. I would raise teachers' pay; give scholarships to every senior student on successful professional socialization. It would be possible to pay for programs and textbooks, which could be worked out by our local scientists and teachers. Besides, it would be the greatest opportunity to pay for Ph.D defense of our scientifically oriented teachers. There would be a fund for traveling, visiting and organizing scientific conferences, competitions and mutual celebrations with our guests from all over the world.

LNDRC: Thank you so much Irina, you have given us an amazing perspective from Russian Education but mainly from your passion about teaching, THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

If you want to read her ideas, you can visit: and if you speaks Russian, maybe you want to try


  1. Dear Dolores, I admire how you could "see" me through your heart from such a far distance, as if we have been acquainted for a long time. How talented you are, how generous! Your work has been so complicated. I imagine, how it's difficult to work with creative persons. Creative persons are full of emotions. As we know,they are independent and understand life only through their own experience. Besides,I wish I could be understood. You see, "cold war" left its imprint on human relations. But ordinary people are the same all over the world. Thank you, dear Alma, for such a unique luxury of communication.Thank you again for your support and interest to the life and culture of ordinary human beings.
    Best regards,

    1. Dear Irina!!!
      It was a wonderful experience, I love your open arms, your giving with so much love and passion. I must Thank YOU!, honest, not everybody is so kind!!!!!
      You make us extraordinary persons, with your sharing!!!!. I want to know much more from you, so stay around us, please!!!!!!

    2. Thank you so much Irina for being so kind and lovely!. You are the kind of persons we can learn so much. I think Dolores saw your soul and share it with our readers. We learned so much about culture and teaching with you. THANK YOU SO MUCH, you both for give so wonderful interview!