Dr. Daniela Vasile, Director of Learning at Avenor College, is a professional in education with over 20 years of international experience, both as a math teacher and in management positions. We invite you to learn more about her passion for excellence in education and use of technology, how the cultural differences she encountered changed her perspective, both professionally and personally, her decision to return home and her love for the sea.
Daniela talked to Ioana, a 12th grade student at Avenor International High School, the initiator of the series of interviews dedicated to the passions and talents of the members of the Avenor community.
Ioana: Tell us a couple of words about Daniela Vasile. How would you introduce yourself?
Daniela Vasile: I love what I do. I really enjoy teaching; I take pride in the relationship that I develop over the years with students. I like meeting them after they’ve graduated and notice that they have become happy and fulfilled people, contributing to their community and beyond, to society. That’s what matters most in life, belonging that leads to fulfillment that, in turn, leads to happiness.
On a personal note, I have a family that I am very proud of. My husband and I have been happily married for 33 years. We have two children. My daughter studied psychology at The University of Oxford.She also got her Master’s degree, and now she works in the UK. My son is studying Economics and Mathematics at The New York University in Abu Dhabi. He leads the university debating and Model United Nations teams. The most important thing is not where they attended college, but that they are driven by healthy values and principles.
Ioana: Where does the passion for the subjects you teach come from (Statistics and Maths)? ?
Daniela Vasile: I think it highly depends on the teacher, perhaps even more so in Mathematics than in other subjects, because Mathematics is a subject where you need a strong foundation to build upon. The passion seems to have originated from my primary teacher, who taught us how to think logically and who was a great educator. During summer holidays, I remember spending time at her house. She had these small chairs which she arranged in her backyard as we studied mathematics and observed the plants grow in her garden. In the summer, she was always surrounded by children.
After that, I was lucky to have very good teachers, both in middle school and high school, and thus this passion grew, because they revealed to me the beauty of mathematics. Just as important is the fact that my mother is a teacher, an exceptional teacher. She was my Romanian language teacher for 4 years, in middle school. She is a role model, both as a teacher and as a human being.
Ioana: I know you’ve also taught in foreign countries. What cultural challenges did you encounter in each of these?
Daniela Vasile: The main difference is in mentality. I have taught in European countries, and the mentality didn’t differ. However, when I went to Asia, it truly was a cultural shock! I was walking down the street and I couldn’t comprehend what drove their actions! Perhaps the biggest shock was to understand that, there, a rule is followed by everyone. That’s certainly a difference! The Asian societies are less individualistic than ours. Back in 2009, when I moved to Hong Kong, I saw occasionally people on the street or few students in the school wearing masks (yes, the same as we wear now). It took me a while to understand that they don’t wear masks to protect themselves from others, but they wear them when they get a cold, to protect others from them.
However, when I am thinking at the school level, students are the same here and there, all are exceptional people. We all live in a more than ever connected world, where borders between cultures fade. While maintaining our roots, we become at the same time more international. And this is what schools like Avenor and all schools where I worked before are similar.
I don’t necessarily think of my travels in terms of challenges I’ve encountered, but rather in terms of opportunities of learning new things and that’s very interesting.
Ioana: Please tell us about a memorable experience whilst teaching abroad, and one from Romania.
Daniela Vasile: I recall this impactful event from the Anglo American School of Moscowwhich actually happened in my very first month there. When I gave back the marked tests to 11th grade students,
As I handed them their work, I did exactly what my teachers in Romania did: I read the results out loud. I then proceeded to give to this one girl her test back. She scored 78%. When the lesson ended, the Korean girl approached me, extremely upset, and said, “Do you realize that you have ruined my social status?” I asked her what she meant by that. She explained to me how, in Korea, anything below 90% is considered a total failure. I then thought how normal calling results out loud was in the Romanian system! I reflected on that instance and I never do this anymore. Coming back home, at Avenor, when I gave back my first set of tests, I noticed that students share between them the scores. I like that here, at Avenor, there is no such fear of being judged by others. Instead, students are open to learn from each other and to learn together. It is a culture of respect and collaboration.
Ioana: Why did you choose Avenor College and how does your experience here compare to that in foreign countries?
Daniela Vasile: When I first decided to return home, because I had taught abroad for 20 years and I grew home-sick, I started scrolling through different schools’ websites. I liked the Avenor spirit, that I could feel just by looking through the website. I saw a school with well-defined values, giving students a broad experience – school is not about subjects only! I then looked in the media and on Facebook, and I reached the conclusion that Avenor was different from any other school in Romania – a school that matches perfectly my view on outstanding education. I wished to be part of this Avenor Adventure, of the Avenor Spirit and to contribute to the Avenor community. It was definitely a thoroughly researched decision, I didn’t just settle on the first school I came across. Finally, after seeing the spirit from the media, I had the pleasant surprise to come here and see that the spirit is alive. I really like the Avenor College community!
Ioana: How did you adapt here, after 20 years of teaching abroad?
Daniela Vasile: Naturally, there are things in the previous place that you miss when moving. After all, I think it’s best to live in the present, not the past; to think about what is good here, because there are so many things I enjoy that I could not have elsewhere.
However, I do miss the sea very much. In Hong Kong, every day when I went to school, I drove down the hill and watched the sea. I’m a person who doesn’t like winter, and it’s always summer there.
I still miss the fact that everything runs smoothly there. Of course, I also miss the friends I made there and my former students, but, on the other hand, I am now at home. I reconnected with my wider family, with my friends and I met new people at the same time. I have new, wonderful students.
Ioana: Throughout the year, I’ve noticed your affinity with technology. We’ve grown to rely increasingly more on technology, it has become a crucial part of our lives, whether we want it to be or not. How did you manage to familiarise yourself with this field?
Daniela Vasile: I’ve always liked technology, because I studied both mathematics and computer science at university. I’ve always believed that technology makes our lives easier, that’s why I began using it in the first place. After that, I discovered a lot of apps that help me teach math in a way that makes the concepts accessible, to help students visualize these procedures. And from there, step by step, I started to diversify my classes, to use technology more and more, hoping that it will have a positive impact on the students’ learning process. Then, when the pandemic began, I started using technology to connect with students.
Ioana: Ioana: At the end of January, you were invited to speak at a SuperTeach conference and one of the topics discussed during this conference began with the question: “What are similar experiences and what are the solutions adopted in various countries successfully applied in Romania?”. Can you please elaborate on this?
Daniela Vasile: It’s very important how the teacher sees himself in class. Is he someone who takes a lesson from the textbook and presents it to the students exactly in the way it is there? Or is he someone who can think and adapt the content of the textbook, improve it? For, in the end, the textbook is just how the author approaches the curriculum, his interpretation of the program. As a teacher, I would like to have my own interpretation, which might revolve around this textbook, but include new elements. After that, you can develop this idea even more: the teacher can even create an entire program without the guidance of the textbook. Thus, learning becomes more interesting, deeper and richer.
Ioana: Given the fact that you have taught at many international schools, what do you think of the Romanian curriculum? What do you like or dislike and what do you think can be improved?
Daniela Vasile: In Romania, it seems to me that exam results matter the most. The process that leads to that result is not given enough significance. However, I consider this very important because the way you get to the result determines what kind of learner we grow. I wouldn’t want my students to learn only for the exam, and then forget everything. This does not mean that I expect a student, after 10-15 years, to remember how to solve a quadratic equation. What I want them to be left with are the habits of mind that will allow them to become life-long learners.
Everyone complains that the Romanian national curriculum is old, and indeed it is old. But this does not mean that, if the curriculum changes completely, the students will be more involved and active. It would be certainly good to improve it, but at the moment we can only work with what we have. The way we approach this curriculum can make a difference in the student’s learning process and, consequently, in their engagement.
Ioana: How do you see online teaching from your point of view?
Daniela Vasile: In March, the pandemic caught us off guard and we had to start online teaching. Not everyone was prepared for this drastic change. However, the teachers at Avenor switched to online teaching very quickly, practically in just 2 days.
Of course, for any teacher, online teaching is more difficult than brick-and-mortar teaching. Mainly due to the fact that teaching in person allows you to easily identify, from the reactions of students, who needs help and guidance, something that is harder to follow online. Thus, we put in place several tools to track the progress of students, applications such as Google Classroom, WhatsApporGoogle Docs.
From a cognitive point of view, online lessons run as well as the in-person ones, but require better organisation and planning.
Hybrid learning is the most difficult for teachers, because you have to follow both the students in class and those online. At Avenor we offer it now and will continue to offer it for students who, for various reasons, can’t attend in-person classes. If you think for a moment, we have always been in a yellow scenario, as we frequently had one-two students at home. This pandemic helped us find solutions that we will use in such cases from now on.
Ioana: What other hobbies do you have besides teaching?
Daniela Vasile: For 2 years, I have been supporting another international school with their Mathematics department, as an educational consultant. I am also an international school evaluator, leading teams of 6-8 educators from all over the world to visit and help schools improve. I have just completed such a visit during the February mid-term break, in Kenya.
I like reading, hiking, and being in nature – well, mainly by the sea!
Ioana: What are your future plans for Avenor?
Daniela Vasile: We are going through a very interesting and meaningful period of transformations in education and I am happy to be part of a progressive team here, at Avenor.
In May, we will participate, as a school, at an international conference, one of the biggest in the educational world: the COBIS conference, where we will present Avenor’s story as a case study. I am very proud that I am able to represent the Avenor school in conferences and workshops. We have a lot to share and to offer.
Also, at the moment, we are at the end of a process where the entire community defined the strategic plan for the next 10 years. The future is bright and interesting – it is now time to get to work, in order to make it happen!