Interviews Archives - Novak Djokovic Foundation https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org Believe in their dreams Thu, 01 Apr 2021 13:11:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/cropped-NDF_favicon_BLUE-32x32.png Interviews Archives - Novak Djokovic Foundation https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org 32 32 Our monthly donor Filip: “Investing in early education means investing in our future” https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/our-monthly-donor/ https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/our-monthly-donor/#respond Thu, 01 Apr 2021 13:04:57 +0000 https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/?p=30138 “By donating, I want to believe that I’m contributing to our youngest being able to have an environment that will help them grow into happy and satisfied people, who will build a brighter and more beautiful future for all of us. ” Meet our monthly donor Filip Petrovic! he success of our work is reflected...

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“By donating, I want to believe that I’m contributing to our youngest being able to have an environment that will help them grow into happy and satisfied people, who will build a brighter and more beautiful future for all of us. ” Meet our monthly donor Filip Petrovic!

The success of our work is reflected not only in the results but also in the expansion of the community that believes in the power of early education. We are very proud that many generous people believe in our work and want to help us make children’s dreams come true. Among them are our monthly donors who we like to call the NDF family. They are people from different countries businesses, of different backgrounds and ages, but who still have something in common – they all recognize the importance of investing in early development. Thanks to them, we can always count on continuous support in every challenge on our way to give our children in Serbia access to preschool education.

Filip shared with us what inspires him to support our work every month. If you want to join the NDF family, become our monthly donor via this link.

Meet our monthly donor Filip Petrovic and his family.

Meet our monthly donor Filip Petrovic and his family.

  • What motivated you to become our monthly donor?

Observing my child and how much love and attention is given to him, how we created an environment for him that helps him satisfy his curiosity, explore his affinities and develop his abilities, I wished that every child in this world receives the same amount of love and support. dreams. By joining the NDF family and helping children in Serbia make their dreams come true, I can make a part of my wishes come true as well.

  • Why is investing in early education important to you?

I deeply believe that the best results can only be achieved through hard work. Also, in order to develop a love for the things we do, it is necessary to create a warm environment that encourages dreams and work on realizing them. For the youngest, early education provides the foundation on which the greatest dreams can be built. Investing in early education means investing in the future, and the more we invest, the more we contribute to a brighter future for our children and all of us.

  • How much does it mean to you that in that way you support the community in Serbia?

In these uncertain times, it is difficult to separate and donate to humanitarian organizations. The situation is not easy, but whenever I think that a certain period may be difficult or demanding for me, I also think of all the children who are taking their first and most important steps in these uncertain times. How is it for children who grow up in Serbia in preschools and schools that do not have the necessary infrastructure or materials needed to learn and grow carefree? I must say that donating has changed me because I realized that by sharing with those who need help, I can achieve much more nobler goals in my life.

"By donating, I want to believe that I'm contributing to our youngest being able to have an environment that will help them grow into happy and satisfied people, who will build a brighter and more beautiful future for all of us. ”

“By donating, I want to believe that I’m contributing to our youngest being able to have an environment that will help them grow into happy and satisfied people, who will build a brighter and more beautiful future for all of us. ”

Every month, new members join the NDF donor family. We are proud to share their stories and why they decided to invest in early childhood education in Serbia. Whether you decide to donate monthly, annually, or to support us in some other way – we welcome you!

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Our Volunteer Lena Marković: “Wow, I Can Do This!” https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/youth-day-our-volunteer-lena/ https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/youth-day-our-volunteer-lena/#respond Wed, 12 Aug 2020 11:02:34 +0000 https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/?p=28204 big part of our success lies in the work, support and strength of fearless young people. Their ideas, creativity and commitment are a daily motivation for our investments into early education, to ensure that as many children as possible in Serbia get to grow up into such great adult people. We have shared touching stories...

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A big part of our success lies in the work, support and strength of fearless young people. Their ideas, creativity and commitment are a daily motivation for our investments into early education, to ensure that as many children as possible in Serbia get to grow up into such great adult people. We have shared touching stories of volunteers at our traditional Friendship Games camp several times. However, for International Youth Day, we have prepared a special interview with the inspirational Lena Marković, whose drive to work with children left us all breathless.

First, we want to wish you a happy International Youth Day!

Thank you very much! I am very glad that I can celebrate it with you, who are contributing so much to the empowerment of young people in Serbia. 

Let’s start from the beginning. What motivated you to apply for the position of a volunteer at our 7th Friendship Games?

I saw an ad at the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade, and I immediately thought that it would be an opportunity for me to work with children. I am studying education psychology, however, I do not get enough opportunities for practical work during my studies.

That’s why I was interested in the Friendship Games camp, because I could get useful real experience, and an opportunity to apply my theoretical knowledge.

Additionally, I heard great stories from older colleagues who volunteered in previous years, and I wanted to have such an unforgettable adventure very much. I sent my application the next day!

Lena Markovic (left) with other volunteers and participants of the 7th Friendship Games.

Lena Markovic (left) with other volunteers and participants of the 7th Friendship Games.

After our team read Lena’s biography and motivation letter, we couldn’t wait to meet her in person. In her motivation letter, Lena explained to us that she had cerebral palsy, which is why she had certain physical difficulties in moving and speaking. However, she explained that this did not stop her from being an excellent student with a passion for working and learning with children. Immediately upon meeting her for the first time, we felt her fighting spirit.

At the Friendship Games, the volunteers spend the whole day with children on different activities, which certainly demands a lot of energy. Was volunteering a big challenge for you?

Even though some could think that, due to my physical difficulties, such an active time could be hard for me, it was actually the opposite! Time spent with children gave me strength. I think their energy and enthusiasm cannot leave anyone indifferent. 

What moment from the Friendship Games will you always remember?

Out of the numerous exciting activities, I will always remember my time with the kids when we were drawing on shirts. I also helped them with coloring, and I was overjoyed that I could be a part of their learning process, and share that moment with them. 

Even though painting and coloring with children might be a regular activity for some, for me it is an unforgettable memory. 

International Youth Day: Our volunteers at the 7th Friendship Games.

International Youth Day: Our volunteers at the 7th Friendship Games.

Our volunteers play an important role in organizing the Friendship Games. In addition to the teachers, they are the ones who help us entertain the children, take care of them and teach them new things. During these 6 days, a special bond of trust is created between the children and the volunteers. The children look up to them and like to involve them in all their games. That is why Lena’s participation in Friendship Games was particularly important for the children. By playing with her, they learned about the importance of inclusion.

The motto of Friendship Games is friendship without borders. Did you meet any new friends?

Of course! I had the pleasure of meeting other young people in Serbia with whom I share the same interests. Other volunteers helped me a lot and were a great support to me. 

And finally – what is your biggest impression after the 7th Friendship Games?

Wow, I can do this?

Before going, I had certain concerns. How will I do it? Will the children accept me? However, in the end, I even surprised myself with how knowledgeable I am and how actively I could participate in the children’s learning process. I gained so much experience, which just gave me additional motivation to keep working diligently. 

Lena with her group at the most fun activity at the Friendship Games - masquerade ball.

Lena with her group at the most fun activity at the Friendship Games – masquerade ball.

Our Foundation will always strive to support ambitious and innovative young people. We are glad that we can provide an opportunity for all those who want to work with children and invest in their education. This way, our successes become more self-sustainable, because we are investing in training, knowledge and skills of young people, who will tomorrow know how to teach the future generations properly. Happy International Youth Day!

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There are always challenges in working with children, but they are welcome! https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/prechool-teacher-interview/ https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/prechool-teacher-interview/#respond Sun, 08 Mar 2020 13:00:01 +0000 https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/?p=27315 After the close family circle, the preschool teacher is the first unknown person a child encounters in his most sensitive period of life. With the support of the prrschool teacher, children acquire basic social and motor skills and begin developing their emotional and cognitive intelligence. That is why the role of preschool teahers is of...

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After the close family circle, the preschool teacher is the first unknown person a child encounters in his most sensitive period of life. With the support of the prrschool teacher, children acquire basic social and motor skills and begin developing their emotional and cognitive intelligence. That is why the role of preschool teahers is of great importance for the future of our society. As Ana Surla, the preschool teacher at our School of Life in Ljukovo, explains, “the job of a preschool teachers involves four elements of love: care, responsibility, respect and bond.”

Ever since she was achild, Ana was interest in the profession of a preschool teacher. Her mom is a preschool teacher too, so she passed on the beauty of working with children to Anna. As of 2016, she is a part of the Bosko Buha Preschool in Indjija, where, as she says, “has the opportunity to collaborate with her many cooleagues and learn from their experience.”

In the village of Ljukovo near Indjija, until recently, only one quarter of children aged 3 to 5.5 had the opportunity to go to preschool, due to lack of space in the facilities. However, at the end of February, the Novak Djokovic Foundation opened its 13th School of Life, providing 60 additional places for children from this area. With our support, preschool teacher Ana and her colleagues create a supportive environment for children from this village to play, learn and grow together.

Preschool teacher Ana Surla and her colleague with children from the School of Life in Ljukovo.

Preschool teacher Ana Surla and her colleague with children from the School of Life in Ljukovo.

1. What inspires you in your daily work with children?

I belong to a generation that grew up with grandparents, so I attended a some sort of a kindergarten program for a year before going to school. I remember my teacher as a very gentle, smiling, cheerful and understanding person. And even today I keep the memories from that period – drawings, photographs and various other work.

However, my fondest memory is the envelope that my teacher, Stefica, personally made for my birthday, filled with birthday wishes from my preschool friends.

I often open it and think about that period with joy. That memory inspires me to create the same moments for my children in preschool, that they will remember all their lives too. 

2. How important is the opening of the School of Life in the village of Ljukovo for you?

The opening of the School of Life in the village of Ljukovo is of utmost importance for all of us, as this program offers quality preschool education to children from rural areas, and thus increases the coverage of children involved in the educational system.

Through this program, as a teacher, I will certainly strengthen myself, and thanks to the monitoring program provided by CIP – Center for Interactive Pedagogy, strengthen my competences. Preschool teachers’ competencies are very important, because while working with children, they influence their overall development.

On this journey, while children learn and explore, we as adults have a guiding role.

Opening of the School of Life in the village of Ljukovo.

Opening of the School of Life in the village of Ljukovo.

3. The School of Life in Ljukovo is not just a preschool – it is a community of parents, children, educators and other actors in the field of early development. What are you giving and what are you receiving from this community?

I think we offer each other an open partnership. That way, we all nurture and get to know our strengths and learn from each other. It’s a good model and method. Children are a central place around which we all build a strong relationship of trust, tolerance and flexibility

4. Children are innocent beings full of imagination, and with a pure heart. We can often learn a lot from them and their way of looking at the world around us. What do your children in preschool teach you?

For me, children are an eternal inspiration. They teach me on a daily basis the spontaneity, trust, truth and certainly the love that they selflessly give and receive.

When working with children, it is very important that when an educator is faced with any kind of challenge, he/she knows that there is someone to turn to, ask for advice, or sometimes just to complain to somebody.

When working with children, it is very important that when a preschool teacher is faced with any kind of challenge, he/she knows that there is someone to turn to, ask for advice, or sometimes just to complain to somebody.

5. How important is the role of a preschool teacher in child development in Serbia? Do you think our society appreciates and recognizes it?

After the close family circle, the preschool teacher is the first unknown person a child encounters in his most sensitive period of life. The job of a preschool teacher involves four elements of love: care, responsibility, respect and bond.

I think everyone involved in pre-school education in Serbia recognize the importance of early development. There is an increasing number of children in kindergartens. Also there are quality seminars, trainings, and discussions for educators that can contribute to strengthening their professional competences.

There are always challenges in working with children, but they are welcome! Through them we learn and strengthen, and sometimes we get to know ourselves better.

When working with children, it is very important that when a preschool teacher is faced with any kind of challenge, he/she knows that there is someone to turn to, ask for advice, or sometimes just to complain to somebody.

There are many colleagues in our institution who are always ready to help us face the challenges. Also, we receive selfless support from the preschool professional service as well as the administration itself. Now also, through the School of Life program, we receive support from the Novak Djokovic Foundation, as well as from our colleagues from the CIP-Center for Interactive Pedagogy.

6. What is School of Life in one word?

From everything I have seen so far, from the experience I already carry and the feeling that this program gives to me and my children, I think that the right word would be right now – home.

The job of a preschool teacher involves four elements of love: care, responsibility, respect and bond.

The job of a preschool teacher involves four elements of love: care, responsibility, respect and bond.

 

 

 

 

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Meet Jovana Ivankovic – a young facilitator of the “Support, Not Perfection” program https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/meet-jovana-ivankovic-a-young-facilitator-of-the-support-not-perfection-program/ https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/meet-jovana-ivankovic-a-young-facilitator-of-the-support-not-perfection-program/#respond Fri, 01 Nov 2019 09:05:22 +0000 https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/?p=26734 “Support is important regardless of whether you are a parent, child, or someone at the start of their career.” urious young people, full of ambition and new ideas, are the ones who create our future. Their energy and motivation represent a strong driving force in our society. However, every beginning is challenging, and that is...

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“Support is important regardless of whether you are a parent, child, or someone at the start of their career.”

Curious young people, full of ambition and new ideas, are the ones who create our future. Their energy and motivation represent a strong driving force in our society. However, every beginning is challenging, and that is why it is necessary to help young people on their path to acquiring new knowledge, experience, and skills. For that reason, our foundation recognized the importance of supporting motivated young people like Jovana Ivankovic. Jovana lives in a town called Sabac, she is 25 years old and she has graduated from the Faculty of Political Sciences – social policy and social work department. She first joined our team as a volunteer. She acquired great experience volunteering at our “Friendship Games” camp, where she had the opportunity to learn a lot about working with children.

Seeing her great drive to learn more in the field of early development, our expert team chose her to train her for the facilitator of our “Support, Not Perfection” program. This program includes 10 interactive and dynamic workshops and is aimed at empowering parents with further knowledge and skills which may help them in raising their children.  Currently, the 6th cycle of workshops within the “Support, Not Perfection” program is being carried out, and for Jovana, it will be the third cycle in which she is heading workshops as a facilitator in the Macvan Prnjavor village near Sabac.

 

  • How did your start as the facilitator of the “Support, Not Perfection” program look like? Did you have any fears, doubts, and how did you overcome them?

At first, I was afraid that the parents would not be interested and that they won’t trust me. I didn’t have previous experience as a facilitator and I did not know what to expect.  However, I had great support from my older and more experienced colleague Slobodanka Aleksic with whom I was at first a co-facilitator for one group of parents. It meant a lot to me to see how she worked, how she talked to parents and encouraged them to think about their daily parenting challenges. She answered all my questions – and sometimes I asked too many. Additionally, she was always calm, so her calmness extended to me as well.

In time, I stopped thinking about all those fears. I knew that I could always count on the support of Slobodanka and the Foundation’s expert team and that I could reach out to them whenever I faced certain obstacles in my work. Additionally, the parents were in a great mood, they supported each other, which made it much easier for me and helped me overcome the initial anxiety.

With the supervision of my mentor Slobodanka and the Foundation’s expert team, I gathered courage and started running the workshops myself in the Macvan Prnjavor.

Jovana Ivankovic is 25 years old and she has graduated from the Faculty of Political Sciences - social policy and social work department. This will be her third cycle as a facilitator of the "Support, Not Perfection" program.

Jovana Ivankovic is 25 years old and she has graduated from the Faculty of Political Sciences – social policy and social work department. This will be her third cycle as a facilitator of the “Support, Not Perfection” program.

 

  • Did your previous experience as a volunteer at the Friendship Games help you with running the workshops?

At the Friendship Games, I spent a lot of time with children, so I encountered many situations in which I learned how children overcome obstacles they encounter in different ways, and how they face certain fears. I understood how difficult it is to influence a child to do something they do not want or which is not fun. The children at the Friendship Games had a lot of energy and asked very interesting and difficult questions. However, parents are like that too, even though the skills involved in working with adults and children are different. Some are skeptical in the beginning, so they do not want to get involved right away, instead of observing from the side, while others start with questions right away. But what is common to all parents is that they come to the workshops because they want what is best for their children.

  • At the workshops, parents acquire many new skills and knowledge about parenting. And in what way did your experience as a facilitator influence your personal and professional development?

The experience I acquired so far helped me expand my knowledge about children’s development, their position in the family system, and to better understand the needs of the parents, which is very important for the job I do as well. Working with families and children can be a sensitive field that includes a broad spectrum of problems, relations, roles and influences, and now I have the impression that I am more aware of them in fieldwork as well.

The workshops are indeed intended for families, but all strategies and techniques they were taught to use on their children can also be used on adults.

 

The “Support, Not Perfection” program includes 10 interactive and dynamic workshops and is aimed at empowering parents with further knowledge and skills which may help them in raising their children.

The “Support, Not Perfection” program includes 10 interactive and dynamic workshops and is aimed at empowering parents with further knowledge and skills which may help them in raising their children.

 

  •  Why do you think that the “Support, Not Perfection” program is important for parents in small places such as Macvan Prnjavor?

Families in small areas usually live in family units (grandparents, relatives) where everyone has an impact on educating and raising the children. Some parents retreat in such a situation believing that the older members know better because they are more experienced. However, this program encourages them to relax in their parental role and teaches them that the others are there simply to help, but the final decisions are always made by them.

During the workshops, parents are also encouraged to share experiences and knowledge among themselves. In this way, they become support for one another, which additionally contributes to the strengthening of their unit.

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Jelena Stojkovic : Empowering children to live their dreams should be our top priority https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/empowering-children-to-live-their-dreams-should-be-our-top-priority/ https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/empowering-children-to-live-their-dreams-should-be-our-top-priority/#respond Mon, 18 Mar 2019 19:23:00 +0000 https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/?p=25271 Today we sit down to talk with another inspiring Djokovic Scholar – meet Jelena Stojkovic! After I receive my Ph.D. in preschool pedagogy, I hope to inspire and mobilize key players in the field of early childhood to empower children to live their dreams and equip them with knowledge and skills they need to succeed....

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Today we sit down to talk with another inspiring Djokovic Scholar – meet Jelena Stojkovic!

After I receive my Ph.D. in preschool pedagogy, I hope to inspire and mobilize key players in the field of early childhood to empower children to live their dreams and equip them with knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

Jelena Stojkovic is a first-year doctoral student in Preschool Pedagogy at the Department of Pedagogy and Andragogy of the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade. Since September 2017, she has been a deputy secretary at the Department of Pedagogy and Andragogy, where she earned her bachelor and master degree, researching the topic “How Digital Communication Impacts Relationships among Young People and Risks They Face Online”.

Thanks to the Novak Djokovic Foundation scholarship, Jelena now attends a Ph.D. programme at the Faculty of Philosophy, Department of Pedagogy and Andragogy. If you want to find out more about Djokovic Scholars, read our published interview with Nevena Mitranic.

 

  • When you think about your childhood, how would you describe it?

I grew up in a small village called Troponje, near a town called Svilajnac in central Serbia, in one of those close-knit communities where people know each other well and function as one big family. I finished primary and secondary school in Svilajnac. This town and my home village remind me of the excitement of the first school days, falling in love for the first time and the joy of playing outdoor games with dear friends. We spent many happy hours together, exploring our micro world shaped by beautiful nature and rural life. I also enjoyed reading and reciting poems and taking dance lessons.

  • What are the things you remember the most regarding your early learning?

When I was a child, everyone addressed me as “doctor Jelena”. I liked that very much because I dreamed of helping people. However, finding my way was not easy at all. It took me a while to define my interests and aspirations and choose the career to match my passion for early childhood education and care. I had no idea that in the end I would be actually studying to earn a doctoral degree in pedagogy, instead of in medicine. In pedagogy, I ultimately found my inner self and got everything I ever wanted.  My childhood dream still came true, even though I don’t work in a hospital and wear the white coat as I initially imagined.

I’m glad that I have a chance to empower children and to help them get the most of their learning. It’s a pleasure to work together with educators to bring the best practices of teaching to preschools.

Jelena Stojkovic, Djokovic Scholar 2018 - 2022

Jelena Stojkovic, Djokovic Scholar, class 2018 – 2022

  • How did you set your mind on getting a university degree in pedagogy?

Based on the knowledge I gained in high school by studying philosophy, sociology, and psychology, I became interested in examining how young children learn and discover the world around them. They encouraged me to put the theories of early childhood education and development to practice and further research these areas. Eventually, I knew that my goal and mission were to support children to reach their full potential.

I decided to study pedagogy because I realized that by working with kids I would be doing something really important for the whole society. But at the same time, I would be able to preserve the little girl within who is a significant part of my identity.

More importantly, pedagogue’s job goes beyond the academic field. It’s about being a practitioner and making a difference in the education and upbringing of young children. My focus has always been on children – the way they perceive the world and their place in it, face challenges, how they communicate with peers and adults, express their emotions and show empathy for others. 

  • Your research and doctoral dissertation are focused on digital technologies. Why did you choose this topic?

Digital technologies are increasingly acknowledged as an important aspect of contemporary early childhood education. Children grow up in media-rich homes. They like using digital technologies for learning, playing, communicating and creating. Therefore, I’m particularly interested in understanding the role that digital technologies play in young children’s lives.

Instead of seeing digital technologies only as challenging in terms of their control and regulation, we should guide and empower children to participate effectively in this digital world and stay safe online.

  • What are the ways to improve preschool education in Serbia?

Primarily by increased support for preschool education and investment in high-quality preschool programs. I think the dialogue between early childhood educators, parents and policymakers is crucial in order to make a breakthrough in the development of preschool education in our country.

Every adult has a stake in the education of children. That’s why teachers, childcare experts, and professionals must reach out to parents, local communities, leaders, and work together for the well-being of the youngest and their better future.

 

In 2018, the Novak Djokovic Foundation started cooperation with the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade with the goal to create a new generation of leaders in the field of ECE and ECD – academic change agents who conduct cutting-edge research, translate and communicate research into policy and practice related to quality preschool education in Serbia.

 

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In Conversation with the Djokovic Scholars: Meet Nevena Mitranic https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/in-conversation-with-the-djokovic-scholars-meet-nevena-mitranic/ https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/in-conversation-with-the-djokovic-scholars-meet-nevena-mitranic/#comments Tue, 11 Dec 2018 08:33:23 +0000 https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/?p=25094 In 2018, the Novak Djokovic Foundation started cooperation with the Faculty of Philosophy, at the University of Belgrade, with the goal to create a new generation of leaders in the field of ECE and ECD – academic change agents who conduct cutting-edge research, translate and communicate research into policy and practice related to quality pre-school...

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In 2018, the Novak Djokovic Foundation started cooperation with the Faculty of Philosophy, at the University of Belgrade, with the goal to create a new generation of leaders in the field of ECE and ECD – academic change agents who conduct cutting-edge research, translate and communicate research into policy and practice related to quality pre-school education in Serbia. 

“Education Is a Journey, Not a Destination”

 

Nevena Mitranic is a third-year doctoral student in Preschool Pedagogy at the Department of Pedagogy and Andragogy of the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade. Since September 2016, she has been working as a demonstrator for the courses Children’s Play and Creativity and Developing Early Childhood Education Practice for Bachelor and Master Students at the Faculty of Philosophy. She also assists in the program Curriculum Development and Evaluation. The Novak Djokovic Foundation Scholarship Program opened new opportunities for Nevena – in January this year she became a teaching assistant at the Department of Pedagogy and Andragogy of the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade.

 

  • How would you describe your childhood?

I grew up in a large, loving and caring family. Someone was always there to look after my older sister and me while mom and dad were working so we didn’t attend daycare as most of our peers. However, my parents did their best to support our early education and development and provide us with plenty of opportunities to explore and create our own, dream world, made of books, comics, cartoons, craft materials, role play sets, board games, and toys…They used to take us to the museums and theatres and we were loyal customers of the video rental store in our street…It was extremely important for us to do as many things together as possible – whether it was time for our drawings and paintings or a family movie night. We played cards and chess and sang our favorite songs in the evenings… My childhood was filled with magical impressions and experiences my sister and I later incorporated into our games, mini-performances, art activities, and goodnight stories.

 

  • What was your early education like?

I really enjoyed learning and discovering new things…I was interested in math, books, art, nature and social sciences…On the other hand, the biggest challenge I had to face was interaction with my peers. It was hard to step outside my comfort zone and cope with situations beyond my control when play gets rough and less fun. Back then, I lacked an understanding of what was going on or why something bad happened… Therefore, effective communication, negotiation, and other social skills were the most important things I learned in my early years.

 

  • Why did you decide to study pedagogy?

I’ve always wanted to pursue a career in education. Knowledge is power, and education can really change the world for better. My choice to study pedagogy is based on a personal belief that it’s the only discipline-wide (or open) enough to cover all the aspects I find motivating and interesting. It’s the area where I will be able to deal with the things I know and like and thus contribute to the process of “moving the world forward”. My education path was shaped by great people – my parents and amazing primary and secondary school teachers. Some of them were outstanding lecturers and experts, while others were good listeners and practitioners…They inspired me to be where I am today. As an undergraduate student, I frequently reflected on my high school philosophy teacher and how she decided to study philosophy even though she felt least confident in her abilities to do so. Every time I faced difficulties and thought that this job wasn’t a good fit, I would recall her saying that education is a journey, not a destination.

  • Children’s play is in the focus of your research and doctoral dissertation. How did you choose this topic?

Ample research has shown that play helps young children build vital knowledge about the world around them. When playing, kids learn how to solve problems and overcome unpleasant experiences, like discrimination and embarrassment. On the other hand, through play they empower and support each other, make friends and respond to the injustice they face in everyday life in a constructive way. A play is where children can show their ideas and creativity in action and channel their endless energy. However, if aggressive behavior and gender stereotypes are constantly present in our community life they will find a place in children’s play accordingly. Then we should ask ourselves whether to blame the children or the context from which they draw inspiration for their play.

 

  • How can we support children’s play?

The best we can do to support children’s play is to become their playmates. Moreover, when playing with children we have to:

                  … be fair: accept the fact that we don’t always know best, instead we should learn how they interact and play alone and with others and respect their methods and ideas;

                  … be there: focus less on guidelines, instructions and expected results and more on the child next to us; try to make everyone feel happy and encouraged at the present moment;

                 … be inspired: explore different ideas and possibilities, create and look forward to the outcome; show enthusiasm when planning play settings and activities, avoid stereotypes and wondering “what else to add”;

             … be constructive: use current situations, space and environment more effectively instead of focusing solely on impossible things; be prepared to “catch the wave”, recognize the potential of children’s ideas and build further on them; initiate innovations and seek new opportunities;

                … be aware: of our actions and their impact on others; remember that efforts to do something new bring inevitable mistakes that fortunately don’t last forever; consider if we interfered too much or missed something that happened during their play in order to make it better next time without labelling ourselves as “good” and “bad” teachers;

                … be patient: don’t expect big changes and great results to happen overnight but give children  time to play and enjoy;

              … be open: let their play surprise and relax us, show them our willingness to participate and become equally absorbed in play;

             … believe: that young minds can create incredible things, that we have much in common with others out there and that they can be perfect playmates, that our ideas can trigger something brand new and genius, that great things are yet to come if we enjoy and treasure each moment we spend together.

 

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In conversation with the Djokovic Fellows – April Boin Choi https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/in-conversation-with-the-djokovic-fellows-april-boin-choi/ https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/in-conversation-with-the-djokovic-fellows-april-boin-choi/#respond Thu, 01 Nov 2018 09:05:59 +0000 https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/?p=24864 Global CEO of the Novak Djokovic Foundation, Alberto Lidji, sat down with the Djokovic Fellows to discuss their current research focus and thoughts on the Djokovic Fellowship.  he Novak Djokovic Foundation and the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University have awarded three Harvard advanced doctoral students the second Djokovic Science and Innovation Fellowship....

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Global CEO of the Novak Djokovic Foundation, Alberto Lidji, sat down with the Djokovic Fellows to discuss their current research focus and thoughts on the Djokovic Fellowship. 

The Novak Djokovic Foundation and the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University have awarded three Harvard advanced doctoral students the second Djokovic Science and Innovation Fellowship. Scott Delaney, April Boin Choi, and Zhihui Li are all in the advanced stages of doctoral programs across the university, and will each receive a grant during the 2018-19 academic year to support their ground-breaking research. With her research, Ph.D. candidate April Boin Choi looks to identify ways to increase early detection of autism in infants. Today we hear from April Boin Choi.

  • Hi April, nice to meet you and congratulations. Tell me more about yourself…

April: I’m a fourth year PhD student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I study early development of children who are at risk for developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD). More specifically, I examine how early behaviours such as gestures develop in children who have an older sibling with autism and are therefore at increased risk for ASD. I also study how caregivers of children at high or low risk for autism respond to their children’s behaviours to better understand the bidirectional nature of caregiver-child interactions.

  • I didn’t realise there was a correlation between siblings developing autism?

April: Children who have an older sibling with autism are at an almost 20% chance of developing autism themselves, compared to approximately a 1% chance in the general population. So I am very interested in understanding the development of so-called “high risk” children, who can inform us about early autism identification and intervention.

  • Tell me more about detecting autism, and diagnosis. When does that usually happen?

April: To my knowledge, diagnosis of autism happens by the age of two, especially if the doctor has expertise in recognising the signs. However, I think the time for diagnosis is quite delayed in the US, but especially in low resource settings where disadvantaged children may not have the same access to an expert.

  • So, you’re hoping that with your research, diagnosis can happen earlier, or new methods could be used for it to be undertaken earlier?

April: I hope my research findings will have implications for detecting autism-related risks early and creating targeted and effective intervention strategies to support healthy child development.

  • What’s it like doing research at Harvard?

April: I feel fortunate to work with many great professors here. I’ve been very lucky to work with Charles A. Nelson, III, Ph.D., who is my research advisor and has been supportive of my independent research in autism. I’ve learned a lot from his expertise in early childhood and how we can do a lot to benefit children in their early development with our research.

  • And the early childhood piece, what attracted you to that? How did you get into it?

April: I love interacting with children and am very interested in studying their development, as children have so much potential and brain plasticity. Also I have a close family member with autism who has benefited a lot from accessing timely support, resources, and interventions. With my academic and personal interests combined, I find early childhood to be a particularly important time period to study in order to improve early autism identification and intervention efforts.

  • What does your research involve? Are you interacting with children, and how do you go about conducting your research?

April: I administer play assessments for children who have a condition called Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC), about 60% of whom go on to develop autism. During assessments, I basically play with children and examine their play and social skills, which are then used to inform the design of individualized, targeted intervention strategies for children and their parents. As I mentioned before, I also examine early development of children who have an older sibling with autism and are “at risk.” Specifically, I study how those children use their hands to communicate in the first two years of life and how their caregivers respond back to their child’s behaviours.

  • How do parents know they have a high-risk child, apart from if they have a sibling with autism?

April: I believe one of the most common risk factors is having an older sibling with autism. Children with some genetic conditions such as TSC and Rett Syndrome are also known to be at heightened risk for developing autism.

  • What are the implications for a child who isn’t properly diagnosed, including schooling?

April: Early intervention is shown to be most effective for a child’s welfare. Those who aren’t diagnosed early generally have a lower quality of life. This is why it’s my passion to discover ways to detect autism-related risks early in life and promote optimal life outcomes of all children and families.

  • And you’ve found that these children are very diverse, and can function in different environments?

April: Children who have been diagnosed with autism are diverse individuals, with unique strengths and weaknesses, just like everyone else. I think the term ‘autism spectrum disorder’ shows this too. For example, some children who are on the spectrum are highly verbal, and are socially interested in meeting people, but when they meet with others, might not understand the appropriate ways to interact or engage with them. Other children may remain non-verbal throughout their lives. I think it is vitally important that attitudes change more in South Korea where I grew up, and in other countries, where many still experience stigma and lack access to autism support and services. I believe a better understanding of the global issues surrounding autism will enable system-level improvements in early childhood outcomes.


 Find out more about the Djokovic Fellows here.

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Meet Zeljana Lukic Radojicic – Exceptional Teacher from Serbia https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/meet-zeljana-lukic-radojicic-exceptional-teacher-serbia/ https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/meet-zeljana-lukic-radojicic-exceptional-teacher-serbia/#comments Sat, 03 Feb 2018 14:59:37 +0000 https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/?p=23696 For the first time ever, Serbia has its candidate for the Global Teacher Prize, awarded annually by the Varkey Foundation to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession. eljana Lukic Radojcic, teacher at the primary school “Milan Rakic” in Banja Vrujci is one of the50 best teachers in the world...

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For the first time ever, Serbia has its candidate for the Global Teacher Prize, awarded annually by the Varkey Foundation to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession.

Zeljana Lukic Radojcic, teacher at the primary school “Milan Rakic” in Banja Vrujci is one of the50 best teachers in the world and has the chance to win a US $1 million award, intended to support improvement and development of education in the country of the prize winner. Her colleague from Macedonia, who was among the top 50 finalists for the prize in 2014, nominated Zeljana for this prestigious award.

The Global Teacher Prize, established by the Varkey Foundation in 2014, seeks to celebrate the best teachers in the world – those who inspire their students and the community that surrounds them – with the long term goal of raising the stature of the profession so that children are motivated to enter the vocation themselves to benefit future generations. The Prize, which has been referred to by many journalists as the Nobel Prize for teaching, highlights the profession and reveals thousands of stories of educators who have transformed young people’s lives. It gives greater recognition to the work of millions of teachers all over the world.

According to Zeljana, it’s a great honour to be shortlisted into the top 50 finalists. “Being among the 50 best teachers in the world coming from 37 countries means that as a representative of Serbia I’ve contributed and will yet contribute to the promotion of education in my country and  affirmation of all teachers working under impossible conditions”, says Zeljana.

She also has a title of “The Best Educators of Serbia” which is the greatest achievement in education awarded by the Association “Zivojin Misic”.

“Teachers matter and it was clear from the moment we launched the prize that it had struck a chord. There was a pent-up desire to celebrate the achievements of teachers throughout the world. We are looking for a teacher who has achieved exceptional results in the classroom, but also won the respect of the community through his or her activities beyond it. Some thought that it was wrong to single out a few individuals when there are countless excellent teachers. But it was only through unearthing these unheralded individual stories that we can make flesh the good work of the whole profession” explains Mr Sunny Varkey, founder  of the Varkey Foundation.

How did you apply for the Prize?

I was nominated by the best teacher of Macedonia, Vesela Bogdanovik and a candidate for the 2014 Global Teacher Prize. She is one of creative teachers fascinated with the Magical Village project due to which my work has become widely recognized. She frequently visits this educational center and runs the workshops for her students.

Can you tell us more about the Magical Village.

The Magical Village is a concept of learning based on innovative teaching resources close to children’s interests and their culture of learning. Children learn under the open sky in creative workshops taught by teachers dressed as fairies from Slavic mythology. The fairy tale setting motivates the children to acquire applicable knowledge easily. Across the Magical Village, resources also include ambient classrooms like a crafting centre, magical gardens, weather station, solar dryers, sundial, orchards, vegetable farms, fields, and forests. All these resources are combined into a single unit to enable the implementation of workshop activities based on integrative teaching. Children can see the big picture of the world and this can be used as a method of reforming the existing formal education. In the Magical village I’ve tried to create symbiosis of the things I experienced through my teaching practice, but also to remove factors that made learning of my students difficult. This kind of work is extremely important for children because the habits we develop in childhood become our authentic and lifelong patterns of behaviour. The Magical Village is a result of my teaching experience and research in this area. After I identified disadvantages of traditional schooling system I started searching for an ideal set of resources to produce the new concept of learning that can be implemented in any rural setting.

The Magical village was initiated by the Association of Citizens “Kreativa” from Banja Vrujci that promotes creative education through active learning. The project was funded by UNICEF within the joint UN programme “Sustainable Tourism for Rural Development“. The programme is designed for children 5-12 years old who actively learn about real life situations through integrated educational activities and acquire functional knowledge.

What are the basic principles that guide your work?

As a teacher you have to be prepared to constantly improve yourself and develop professionally with every new generation of your students. Speaking from my personal experience, I didn’t stick to the same approach with all my former students. Instead, I did my best to follow their sensibility and adjust my teaching methods to their needs. Every generation of students is quite specific and unique so we can’t educate and treat them in the same way, expecting them to show their maximum in class. We should rather monitor their behaviour, development and progress on a daily basis and in this way help them reach their full academic potential. Teaching is a very enjoyable and rewarding career although demanding and exhausting at times, as it requires a lot of energy, efforts and patience.

In addition, commitment, enthusiasm and passion for teaching are the most important qualities of all. If they are lacking, neither of those involved in children’s education – teachers and parents – nor students are satisfied. On the other hand, if mentioned qualities do exist, then teacher’s success in classroom is almost guaranteed. Teachers who are fond of their profession are extraordinary individuals full of inspiring and creative ideas.

What’s the most remarkable thing in your teaching practice?

For many years, I’ve been focused on a systematic, integrative approach to teaching. I was interested in examining the nature of such innovative method and possibilities of its application in classroom. In Serbian education system it has been rarely used due to demanding planning, organisation and implementation. However,  integrative teaching should be more present both in the teaching process and in the field of education policies.

What are the traits that would make for the ideal 21st teacher?

There’s no such thing as a perfect teacher, but if we work hard, love our students and are always learning, we’re pretty close. Teachers should welcome the new realities and devote themselves to the education of creative and capable people as future leaders of progress and prosperity in their communities. Modern education will definitely bring some revolutionary ideas such as ending the practice of  learning just to get good marks and planning curriculum according to 45-min lessons and school subjects. Focus should be rather on teaching students about facts and helping them find their relevance in everyday life. Thus, children will come to school not feeling so much pressure we currently put on them and motivated to equip themselves with knowledge to be able to face various situations and difficulties in real life. Eventually we’ll start to appreciate soft skills more than diplomas and academics. Teachers who are ready to respond to these challenges will find themselves as well as their students satisfied and successful. Educators, both in Serbia and worldwide, have to accept the fact that their professional success will largely depend on their willingness to think outside the box and their ability to adapt quickly to changes.

Teaching is also heading out of the school and into outdoor classrooms in a natural environment  whether it’s a forest, farm, cave or archaeological site, where learning is doing from a firsthand perspective. Classrooms of the future will definitely be on the move.

If awarded the prize, how would you use the funds?

I would like to establish a regional hub of creativity and resilience. One of our main goals would be to empower enthusiastic teachers in need of support. They are very important for our profession because they are able to motivate and inspire not just their students but also their fellow colleagues and local communities. These teachers need to feel encouraged in order to make a positive and tangible difference in their classrooms. The center will contribute to their affirmation and elevation of their status in society.

As for my students, they would finally have new and spacious school gym, canteen and a well-stocked library. In any case, the winner will be able to meet some of the needs of his/her students and for this reason we should all be truly grateful to the Varkey Foundation for launching the Global Teacher Prize.

My message to teachers and colleagues worldwide is to continue to develop their competences throughout their careers. Our knowledge and skills are all we need for professional and any other start in life.

Zeljana and other candidates are looking forward to the announcement of the top ten finalists for the 2018 prize that will happen at the beginning of this month.  We wish Zeljana the best of luck!

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In Conversation with the Djokovic Fellows: Sonia Alves https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/conversation-djokovic-fellows-sonia-alves/ https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/conversation-djokovic-fellows-sonia-alves/#respond Thu, 28 Sep 2017 08:15:30 +0000 https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/?p=22788 Our Global CEO, Alberto Lidji, sat down with the Fellows to discuss their current research focus and thoughts on the Djokovic Fellowship. Today we hear from Sonia Alves.   he Novak Djokovic Foundation and the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University have awarded four Harvard advanced doctoral students the inaugural Djokovic Science and...

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Our Global CEO, Alberto Lidji, sat down with the Fellows to discuss their current research focus and thoughts on the Djokovic Fellowship. Today we hear from Sonia Alves.  

The Novak Djokovic Foundation and the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University have awarded four Harvard advanced doctoral students the inaugural Djokovic Science and Innovation Fellowship. Sonia Alves, Joshua Jeong, Rebecca Lebowitz, and Linda Zhao are all in the advanced stages of doctoral programs across the university, and each receives a grant during the 2017-18 academic year to support their groundbreaking research.

Alberto: Firstly, congratulations on being awarded the Djokovic Fellowship. Tell us a bit about yourself and what made you want to apply.

Sonia: I grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts, with two older siblings. My parents are both immigrants from the Islands of Cape Verde. I graduated from Charlestown High School, a Boston public high school in 2006, and went on to Smith College, a small, private, liberal arts college, double-majoring in Education and Psychology.

After graduating in 2010 from Smith, I worked as a research assistant for three years at Boston Children’s Hospital at the Stress and Development Lab. That was my first introduction into the research world of adverse childhood experiences. The Stress and Development Lab is a psychophysiology lab where we conducted studies on adolescents between the ages of 13 and 21. As a part of our study, adolescents were hooked up to psychophysiology equipment such as EKG (electrocardiogram) and impedance cardiography tape around the neck and torso. The study I was working on examined differences in physiological responses among adolescents who had experienced abuse and violence in the past and those who had not, and tracked their later mental health outcomes. The work I did in the lab fascinated me and made me want to take the research further by examining this work within the context of academic outcomes.

Alberto: It’s a fascinating and vast topic to consider. What is your dissertation going to focus on?

Sonia: So, by working with the young people at Boston Children’s Hospital, I realised that I was interested in their academic outcomes. If you’ve experienced trauma as a child, how do you function in the classroom, and is it difficult for you to learn? And, if you are succeeding, what are the protective factors buffering the effects of adverse experiences? Is it a great after-school program, a great teacher who goes above and beyond? That’s what I am now here to find out!

My dissertation is looking at children exposed to community violence, such as being a victim and/or witness of a violence-related act such as a shooting or mugging. I’m trying to understand the mechanisms underlying the association between childhood community violence exposure and academic functioning, as well as the protective factors at play.

Alberto: At the Novak Djokovic Foundation, we’re proud to be able to support this kind of academic work, and we also work closely on the front lines with communities to provide better opportunities for children. What do you think are the gaps between academic theory and practice and how can they be bridged?

Sonia: Throughout the years, I have read a lot of the work on adverse childhood experiences, but I have had little experience with conducting applied work in this area, because I come from a very lab-based background. So, as a second-year doctoral student, I set out to obtain a Master’s degree in Prevention Science and Practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Education within the counselling strand, to gain some practical experience. Two days out of the week, I interned in the counselling department at a local Boston public K-8 (Kindergarten through 8th Grade) school. While interning at the school I conducted individual and group counselling sessions. This work allowed me to begin to explore how research and practice can come together. I think one of the great things about this Fellowship is that I can use the time during the Fellowship year to think about such questions. The environment is supportive and will help me think innovatively. I can practice, look at policy, conduct research and talk to others to help provide real solutions.

Alberto: Are you more inclined to stay within the academic field or do you see yourself more as a practitioner, or perhaps a combination of both?

Sonia: Some days I wake up and I’m like, “Oh, I want to be an academic.” Other days, I’m like, “No way, let’s get some practice in!” And then other days, I’m like, “No, I need to find a way to do both, right?!” As of today, I see myself in the academic field, but also making it a focus of mine to collaborate with community organizations. I would love to continue to conduct research in Boston while also collaborating with community leaders. There are exciting times ahead!

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