A royal welcome in Romania
I knew very little about Romania, and even less about the Arion programme, when I boarded a plane bound for Bucharest recently. My local authority, Caerphilly, had encouraged me to go. The point of the trip was to focus on managerial styles in school leadership.
Naturally there was some apprehension of the unknown but this eased considerably when I was met at the airport by my Romanian host and driven to Giurgiu.
There was something a little surreal about meeting school leaders from 10 other European countries in a Romanian hotel, and knowing that you would be living and working closely with them for just under a week.
The linguistic skills of my colleagues put me to shame and I felt a little guilty that everyone else was speaking in my first language. We learned a great deal about each other, both personally and professionally. Group members quickly discovered why it was important not to call someone from Wales "English" and that there is more to the UK than London.
I discovered that the people of Giurgiu are both overwhelmingly hospitable and exceptionally proud. They were keen to show us the best of their education system and country. They were aware of how the international press had portrayed them and were anxious to prove that not everyone in Romania was destitute or from an orphanage.
Our group visited the National College and 11 schools. At many of the venues we were treated as honoured guests - as if we were celebrities.
There was little doubt that each of us represented "our" country.
The media followed us closely and recorded our travels and impressions on radio, in newspapers and on television. We gave a formal press conference and a number of interviews. At times I felt as if someone should explain that we were not really that important.
During one visit to a rural school, I tried to say that we were not famous and did not deserve so much fuss. The host informed me that our visit to the village was the greatest day in its history. One cannot help but be humbled by such an experience.
Professionally, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about how school leaders in Romania rise to the challenges they face. I also learned a lot by comparing and contrasting management issues and solutions that arise across Europe with the Arion members. The group report we produced following our visit focused on the managerial styles of headteachers, the evaluation of school leaders and the recruitmentpermanency of employment of heads.
In Romania, when heads or inspectors are appointed, their teaching posts are kept open for them. This means that if they fail the evaluation that takes place every four years, they return to the role of teacher. Like all strategies, it has its advantanges and disadvantages.
I did not expect to benefit as much as I did from the visit. Like all experiences of a lifetime, it remains difficult to put into words. I have made friends across Europe and developed links for Ty Sign primary. I danced in the street with old gypsy women. I was forced to reflect on the generosity of those who are comparatively worse off, while those with the most can moan more.
I learned how important it is to educate pupils for life as European citizens and how vital it is to learn from each other's experiences. I learned about my own leadership style and interpersonal skills and how Arion visits can provide lifelong memories. And there is more to Romania than poverty, gypsies and orphanages.