The communities in which Samet Başkonuş has taught have changed his perspective on what being a teacher means. His career started in the coldest city in Turkey, where the poverty of the children was so great that some came to school in torn shoes in -30 degree temperatures. He realised then that working with severely disadvantaged children required much more than providing maths or Turkish lessons in the classroom.
For Başkonuş, the classroom is where teaching begins. But it doesn’t end at the door. When he arrived at Anafartalar Primary School in the İzmir region on the West coast of Turkey, he first had to refurbish the buildings inside and out. He raised over $24,000 and was able to build new facilities, including a playground, library, art workshops and a computer lab.
Such resourcefulness characterises Başkonuş’ approach to his role as Principal. He ensures students can engage effectively with their education by eliminating the barriers wherever he can. This ranges from providing school bags and stationary, to providing Turkish language lessons to parents and inviting the District Governor to meet with members of the community to discuss solutions to local challenges.
He is an enthusiastic and practical advocate of the environment. He has improved recycling in his local community by providing training to more than 200 households and workplaces. A waste-paper collection programme he started has recycled 14 tons of paper, and made donations of salvaged books to nine rural schools.
He is particularly passionate about supporting the many Syrian children who have arrived as refugees, and who struggle to integrate. Başkonuş developed a programme, Together Through Art. It offers art workshops to young people, and provides opportunities for local and Syrian children to create art together. Through this, they learn about each other and gain confidence in living side by side. The local police force has reported that Together Through Art has brought 42 students who were begging or working into school, and reduced absenteeism among Syrian students by 90%. It is being replicated in schools across Turkey.
Başkonuş’ recognition of the importance of digital skills inspired him to develop a programme to teach his students how to design and build websites. He encourages them to engage with online learning and has established 29 e-twinning projects, giving students and staff access to learning opportunities and resources from all across Europe. Recently, this has yielded an Erasumu+ innovation project, which will give Başkonuş’s students exchange opportunities in Portugal and Lithuania.
Başkonuş takes every opportunity to share his passion for his approach to teaching. He has provided vocational training to teachers, published two books, and writes regular columns for education publications. He also maintains a website of resources that have been developed within his school. He has been recognised for his work in a number of awards, including being voted Turkey’s Teacher of the Year, 2017 by the public. His most recent book won the Gold Pen Award from BCA Times newspaper.