These Schools Encourage You

These Schools Encourage You

Outdated teaching methods and materials, disillusioned pupils, exhausted teachers, and difficult school careers are a reality in most German schools. But there are also counterexamples. A visit to two extraordinary schools in Berlin and Potsdam.

The students of the quinoa school always want to argue and not beat each other – that’s already noticed among young people in a Wedding. These girls and boys are different, like Emine. The 15-year-old wants to become a social worker, and that’s not just wishful thinking, but a goal of her. Currently, one in three young people in Berlin-Wedding leaves school without a degree.

Emine dares more. In the classroom of the private quinoa school, which aims to create more equal opportunity for socially disadvantaged young people, the ninth-grader concentrates on a page with German exercises. She hears a few songs on headphones, so it makes her easier.

Gabriel is not sure if he really wants to become a car designer. The eighth-grader sits in a wheelchair and is currently researching facts for teaching English in the computer room of the Oberlinschule in Potsdam, a special school for physically handicapped, partially sighted and deaf-blind children and adolescents. Since Gabriel helped shape the school newspaper, the 13-year-old has discovered his weakness for layouts. At the Oberlinschule, which he switched to last year, he especially appreciates the many digital learning opportunities with a tablet, smart board, and computer that did not exist at his former school.

With the wheelchair in the classroom? The Oberlinschule shows how successful inclusion works.

Outdated teaching methods and learning aids, disillusioned pupils, exhausted teachers, and difficult school careers are reality in German schools. But there are also the opposites, as the examples, Quinoa and Oberlinschule impressively show. Both schools specialize in certain groups of pupils, teaching a select intersection of our society, so to speak, but could hardly do more in terms of school concept, funding, teaching, and learning opportunities. This is remarkable and almost logical at second glance, as both schools operate far from the cliché of the standard student.

The Quinoa School and the Oberlin School have given teaching and learning not only a bit of diversity and individuality here and there. The whole activity of these schools – their development plans, actions, visions of the future and their daily school life – is permeated by the idea of highlighting, emphasizing and making the most of the personalities, life stories, special talents and, above all, the special needs of their students. For learning success, but also for life: independence, professional success, personal happiness.


Location: northern edge Berlin-Wedding, outside barren concrete construction, inside oasis for family learning, founding 2014, approved secondary school without upper secondary school, currently 78 students, of which a majority of Hartz IV families, young teachers, one-third state funding, two Third financed by donations, sponsored by the Montessori Foundation Berlin.

Against the lack of prospects

The quinoa school is the first approved private school in Germany for the financially weak, one could say. Their goal is to explicitly reflect the reality of a district characterized by unemployment and lack of prospects in their student body, but also to prove that education and advancement, independent of income, background and family role models, will work well if educational institutions adjust accordingly. “We want to make a difference for the kids and teens in Wedding because it can not be that they have to listen to each other, that they will not work out anyway,” says Pantelis Pavlakidis, who teaches seventh grade at the Quinoa School and civics teaches, a subject network of ethics and social studies. That a migration background is a disadvantage as socially often portrayed, just be nonsense. Above all, the children lacked support, encouragement and role models with successful learning. All this, the students at the family quinoa school on a high level, while public schools can afford this only because of the high number of students difficult.

School life at the Quinoa School

“We can support our students holistically because we have a particularly close contact with them through the tutoring program.” Jonas Akaou: Head of Tutorials, Grade 9 Nursing, Intercultural Learning

Many of the teenagers are disillusioned and frustrated with their previous school career when they attend quinoa school. In order to get through to them at all, the teaching team and five fellows of the non-profit education initiative Teach First Germany put a lot of energy into a weekly tutor program. Each student has a teacher from the seventh to the tenth grade as a personal tutor. The tandem meets weekly for half an hour to talk about life stories, current learning barriers, and learning goals. “We believe that you need a strong and intense relationship with the students so they understand we are at their side,” says Pavlakidis. With this trust, which then also the stigma “You can not break anything”, learning in the classroom is easier.

We believe that it takes a strong and intense commitment to the students to understand that we are by their side.

Pantelis Pavlakidis

is a teacher at Quinoa School and teaches civics.


Location: Potsdam-Babelsberg, traditional school location of the Oberlinverein since 1899, combination of old and new building, colorful and quiet atmosphere, all-day school with all educational programs, currently 295 students with special educational needs, multi-professional team of teachers, special educationists, educators, curative educators, Heilerziehungspflegern, one Pediatrician, pediatric nurses, physiotherapists, speech therapists and more, sponsored by the schools in the Oberlinhaus gGmbH.

How inclusion succeeds

Children and adolescents with failed and difficult school biographies also come to the Special Education Oberlinschule, which is why the long-time headmaster Uwe Plenzke believes that inclusion in regular schools would work better and would also spare distressing experiences if sufficient special educational professionalism was immediately available for abnormalities and impairments, Sometimes it would be better to first choose a special education school and only in the second step the school around the corner if the student shows enough stability for it.

Falling asleep in the retreat, physiotherapy or speech therapy during the school day, individual learning in the adjoining room, as seventh graders with the folder under their arm in the ninth grade biology lessons, individual commuting between theory and practical learning environment – all this goes to the Oberlinschule. Regular schools quickly reach their limits here.

Schullalltag at the Oberlinschule

Since the reunification, the number of pupils at the Oberlinschule has quadrupled and the diagnoses of the children and adolescents admitted there have become more complex. Over the decades, the school and learning concept with every new student and his special diagnosis has become a bit more of a mosaic, which was thought to be trying to fit into the concept of funding and learning. Especially the realization that physical impairments often bring with them emotional and social support needs and do not require only technical aids has been an important impulse to make everyday teaching and learning even more diverse and individual, says Uwe Plenzke.

Drawers would be avoided if possible, explains the headmaster. “There is a child, little or no talking, and the doctors, professionals, parents, despite all the diagnostic options, it is still unclear what special features and impairments the child has exactly.” For the Oberlinschule this is not a hurdle since this child in possibly appropriate Supporting and learning dynamics could integrate, where then with promotion-diagnostic learning observation shows, which special support need exists actually.

In the Oberlinschule pupils with special educational needs of all educational programs learn.

Much is still going on in Wedding at the Quinoa School, such as a four-year mentoring program for Quinoa graduates or Free Practice, where students and teachers spend 90 minutes a week experimenting with learning type tests. What has been around for a long time will be further developed in the laboratory, such as the subjects “future”, a kind of vocational orientation plus, and “intercultural learning”, a subject that aims to strengthen the students’ identity and reveal their special potential. A lot of attention has been paid to quinoa behavior management, which aims to bring the three values of courage, commitment, and awareness to the young people and to ensure that as little instruction time as possible is wasted on high noise levels and disturbing students.

Explicitly good experiences made both schools with well-considered and written individual promotion goals for each pupil. At the quinoa, these goals are developed by the teacher-pupil tandem. In the Oberlinschule, the process is much more complex, because in the promotion goals also feedback from specialist teachers, the doctor, the psychologist, the therapist and the parents must be incorporated into recent physical changes, behavioral changes, development successes or setbacks.

What could be transferred from all this to other schools? In any case, the idea that learning must also be lived, so much more life practice needs, says Uwe Plenzke. The Headmaster recommends dealing much more relaxed, flexible and imaginative with the guidelines and framework curricula, as it is common practice.

Pantelis Pavlakidis believes that other schools may well be transferring some of the components of the quinoa concept, such as the way the class is organized, or the new subjects. However, Pavlakidis sees the quinoa concept as a whole as simply being transferred to another problem district because it is very much oriented towards Wedding. The quinoa school sees future music as its primary goal in building up a local educational chain with the many institutions already involved in the neighborhood, said Pavlakidis. They must already start in front of the kindergarten so that you do not delete the fire until the seventh grade.