Klaudia Bednárová, Director of The Bridge tells us about a school where one can learn English.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded The Bridge.
Klaudia Bednárová: I graduated from the Faculty of Education, Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra, Department of English Language and Literature – Education. In 2009 I founded a private language school, the Bridge – English Language Centre.
I initiated, and I was one of the founding members of the Slovak Chamber of English teachers (SCELT) and the Slovak Association of Language Schools. I’m a chairwoman of SCELT, and I was a chairwoman of the latter in 2011 – 2016.
I’m passionate about teacher training. I’ve established and run projects such as Eltforum.sk and the Bridge re-boot camp for teachers. My passion and professional interest is in effective learning strategies, which I understand as a broad and complex topic. I believe that there is no ultimately correct answer, but it is an eclectic and holistic approach that can help us be more effective teachers and learners.
How does The Bridge innovate?
Klaudia Bednárová: We believe that it is important for a company to create and nurture an ecosystem of learning. It’s learning that fuels innovations; therefore, we focus on creating space (virtual as well as physical) for the professional development of our teachers. On a regular basis, we invite renowned professionals to our school to give lectures, run workshops, and residential courses, especially residential courses, which are a massive boost of motivation, development, and innovation. Being able to learn from the best and then opportunities to discuss things over a cup of coffee or glass of wine in the evenings stimulates the right ecosystem for growth and innovations. “A – people attract A-people,” “A-people make things happen.”
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Klaudia Bednárová: They say COVID-19 has been “the best” CTO, and I say a tough teacher as well. Following the situation in the world, in February 2020, we were aware that the situation is getting more and more serious. We happened to have a residential training at the beginning of March 2020, which gave us a unique opportunity to talk and discuss things as a team. We shared our views and ideas, and being an international team gave us the opportunity to have different angles to discussion. Some of our teachers had previous experience from teaching online in Asia, so we listened to what they had to say, discussed, and made our plan. Basically, we agreed on using ZOOM, created micro teams lead by team leaders with previous experience teaching online, and agreed on training. We got back to work on Monday to find out that the government has started to talk about the lockdown. The time to move ahead with our plan came sooner than we expected. We organized a ZOOM kick-off training for our teachers. In parallel, they were learning how to use ZOOM effectively, talking to their students, trying out online lessons, and collecting feedback. By the end of the week, we all had experience, and we knew it will work for students as well as for us. The great thing was positive feedback. On Friday, we could approach HR managers with complex information – “given the circumstances we move our operations online, students are happy to do so we only need your official consent to conduct the full shift.” 80% of companies have agreed, and I assume part of the success was that we were ready with full picture and HR departments had no additional work with the change. Being swamped by the quickly escalated situation, they didn’t need extra work, for they needed to focus on their own operations.
Since March 2020, we have been fully operated online, learning by doing and improving things as we go. It has widened our business opportunities as now we can teach anywhere in the world. Now our teachers teach from all around the world without the need to relocate to Bratislava. The first year was about change and learning. We needed to adapt our processes so, besides the in-person form of education, our online form can become a solid part of our future operations.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Klaudia Bednárová: Fortunately, we didn’t have to make difficult choices. We kept our team, and in fact, we have taken on more teachers. COVIC-19 has forced us out of our comfortable spot and made us do what we preach. We had to learn, learn, learn. We understood that learning new things is not just great because you know more, but more importantly, one micro-practices skills needed to better tackle crisis or uncomfortable situations. Learning a new language, for example, trains your ability to work with error – being comfortable making mistakes and admitting them to your colleagues, acknowledging that moving forward inevitably means making mistakes. It trains self-discipline, flexibility, responsibility and improves communication skills. To take it a step further, for international companies, high conduct of English means a higher quality of communication among employees hence more cooperation, creativity, and critical thinking.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Klaudia Bednárová: We used ZOOM to teach as well as to meet, whether socially or professionally.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Klaudia Bednárová: Many language schools have stopped their operation or underestimated the importance of investing in changing their usual way of doing things. For us, the pandemic has proved that we have identified our company values well. Engagement, Responsibility, Lifelong learning, and being team players have got us through the crisis so far, so good. We aim to nurture our values and keep on working hard, enjoying the process.
Your final thoughts?
Klaudia Bednárová: They say each cloud has a silver lining. Pandemic is a horrible thing to happen; thousands of people have died or got into financial troubles. There is no doubt about the seriousness of the situation. As a company, we have decided to be as helpful in improving the situation as possible. Besides being responsible citizens, we have decided to find that silver lining. More time on our hands being locked down has raised the importance of lifelong learning. We got on this wave and started to talk more about its importance. We organized webinars, focus groups, discussions with HR managers and CEOs, written articles to spread the message of the importance of education. The brain works as a muscle; the more we use it, the better it functions. The more we learn, the more flexible, agile, and resilient we are. The first observations of companies that survived pandemic show that a functioning ecosystem of learning in the company helps keep your employees more ready for a change without overwhelming stress.
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