At the age of seven, Sonia was already helping her teacher at school and teaching other girls in the street where she lived. Her vocation was again reinforced in adolescence, when she successfully mentored a classmate from South Africa, helping her learn Portuguese. It became increasingly clear to Sonia that she would become a teacher and follow that path in adulthood.
In 2000, with five years of teaching experience, Sonia returned to college and started academic study in Educational Sciences. In 2011, she completed her doctorate in Education and Human Development, focusing her empirical work on the methodology of Cooperative Learning. This active teaching model lets students work in teams (small heterogeneous groups chosen by teachers) in which they assume different rotating functions, such as “secretary”, “silence manager”, “time manager”, “spokesperson”, “conciliator”, “task checker”, “reporter”, and “coordinator”. This means they can each try out different roles, empathise, and gain experience. The roles are intentionally chosen according to the learning objectives of the class, and learning is also developed using digital pedagogical tools when appropriate. It is a way of teaching that allows everyone to develop skills in an appealing, captivating and inclusive context.
In 2011, Sonia designed the first training course on Cooperative Learning for teachers, and in 2015, in response to the needs of several teachers, she created a new training workshop called “Cooperative Communities of Professional Learning” (CCAP). The results have been surprising, both for students (at the level of social skills, self-belief, motivation, creativity and school performance) and teachers (in pedagogical practice and classroom climate). As a result of the interest shown in Sonia’s method by the National Program of Promotion of School Success at DGE, she created the broader COOPERA Project in 2016 to further promote the approach. It has now had a direct impact on 60 teachers and 29 classes (about 730 students), as well as a far wider impact through four national Pedagogical Meetings (2017-20) and the publication of two books on the subject. Today, the COOPERA Project is being successfully disseminated by several schools in different regions of Portugal, and will hopefully spread to other countries in the future.
Sonia was the 2020 Winner of the Global Teacher Prize Portugal, which gained her methods recognition from teachers, parents, principals, mayors, and the national press. If she wins the Global Teacher Prize, she will invest the funds in (1) an online impact assessment platform for teachers, (2) the creation and development of resources to support Cooperative Learning, (3) the dissemination of impact results to the academic and educational community, and (4) creation of the COOPERA Annual Award for the class or school with the best performance in academic and cooperative skills.