Updated: Jul 10
Nina Bulajić is a school psychologist and Montessori practitioner who recently assumed the position of executive director or Principal at Bloom. In this interview, Ms. Bulajić tells us about her beginnings, her experiences in traditional public schools, especially in comparison to her work at Bloom, and about everything that makes her job and calling special.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I must say that although I teach children to talk confidently about themselves and to say a lot about themselves, it is not easy at all.
I am a school psychologist, and I have been at Bloom since 2017. I began as psychological support in Children's House, and that first year was focused on gaining experience working with children from 3 to 6 years old. I had previously worked in an elementary school so I had experience with older children, but Children's House was my first adventure with Bloom and the Montessori philosophy. I completed my training before I began to work, so this was also an ideal opportunity to put what I learned in theory into practice. Eventually, my role expanded to working in primary school and high school.
After three years, I became the school's director of operations, that is, executive director or principal. This role was created to facilitate the communication within the educational triangle: parent, school, child. I am on the frontline, with constant support from teachers. So, this role arose as a result of the work I had done in previous years.
I've been here for seven years now, and it's only with the departure of the children - graduates, big and small - that I realise how much time that is. It is their growth and transition to higher levels that make me realise how long I am already here.
You talked about how you work on the front line with parents, children and staff. Do you think that is your purpose at Bloom? How would you define your purpose?
When I was defining my "purpose" during the wonderful workshop with Nadja and Laurent (from Generation Purpose), somehow, the first thing that came up was: "a person who gives space or holds space". So, my role is to provide a space in which all members of the community can express themselves, actively listen and participate. I think that this is my purpose first and foremost, and it manifests itself primarily through my work with the children... Following the children and supporting them through challenges. Because when everything is going well then we don't need anyone, we go through life very easily. But when we hit the first hurdle, we need support. Support could be a synonym that goes with my name.
You've worked in other schools before. What makes Bloom different from other schools?
I worked in a very good traditional, public elementary school, which had teachers who genuinely had a slightly different approach compared to classical schools. But this school was really only academically oriented. Everything was focused on ranks in competitions, grades...
Already in the lower grades, children - I don't know, aged eight or nine - complained of psychosomatic problems; developed gastritis; school phobia; and those are some of the things that worried me.
Perhaps this is the first thing I would like to point out: caring for a child, that is, the upbringing and education of a child isn't an exclusively academic endeavour. Their well-being, mental health, self-confidence, physical strength, condition, and spiritual preparedness are equally important. And this is something that Bloom takes into account. That is the holistic experience we're always talking about. When we talk about a child, we don't say: "And he's good at math, but he's not doing so well in languages...". The complete context is taken into account: character traits, what they like, what they don't like, interests, how to approach them. This is what definitely sets Bloom apart from other schools.
Another thing that makes it different is that everyone feels for children with their heart. I think that if a person decides to work at Bloom, either as a teacher, pedagogue, psychologist or even our support staff, they must really feel the children with their heart. I know that the statement "I love children" is more like a platitude. This is something that people often use when they begin working in schools, but you really have to feel the children and their needs in order to be here. What is also different is that children here do not change class every 45 minutes to attend another lesson. We are all together 40 hours a week. That is more time than children spend with family.
And perhaps the third thing I would like to point out: I really think that teachers here have the freedom to present their subject in the most interesting way possible. In a way that will enable children to understand that everything they learn has a purpose in life. The curriculum is set and the Montessori methodology is the way it is, but one can get creative with it. It can be really fun for a teacher regardless of whether they teach languages, geography, history, or any other subject. They have the freedom to be creative, to be practical, to be very concrete. Those are three differences that come to mind.
Those are big differences.
Huge, huge. Definitely.
You spend a lot of time in classrooms working with students. What do you hope to teach your students?
I'm constantly in the classroom. It is very hard to find me in the office. It's not just because the school or my obligations require it; it's just the place where I feel best. Being surrounded by children is something that fulfils me and nourishes me in challenging situations. Of course, I do get satisfaction from working with adults, which is an integral part of what I do - but things with children happen naturally and spontaneously. It is also impossible to notice what they are going through if we are not part of it everyday.
What I hope the children will get through us is what my generation did not. And that is that life values are the most important. I would like the children to learn that hard work and effort pays off; that success does not happen overnight; that financial status helps us to achieve some of our desires, but it does not fulfil us completely. And I hope that this understanding will carry them into the world and support them in changing it, because we have not left it in a very good state. We also inherited the world the way it is from prior generations to a certain extent, but I hope that they will have more courage to change things than my generation has had.
What have your students taught you?
My students have taught me a lot. When this year's graduates were leaving, I said to both generations: "thank you for everything you taught me". Because I truly have learned the most from children.
I've learned that even when people disappoint you, you can somehow find a way to move on. I've learned that children's hearts are so open and pure, that even when they face criticism, they have the strength to forgive and understand.
I've learned that faking doesn't pass with children. We can pretend for a certain time, but children know it and feel it. That is perhaps the most important thing that they taught me because I think we believe that as we get older, we are better equipped for adult life; for other people; for the challenges that we face. In reality, the lessons that we learned as children or as teenagers are the ones that remain with us.
So they've taught me a lot, and they often remind me that the little things are most important in life. More often than not, when I question myself, I find myself returning to a situation I experienced with children rather than one with adults. We adults take a lot of things personally, we are often driven by a little bit of vanity and ego. Children don't have that.
Do you have a favourite memory from this academic year?
Oh, I have many. It's kind of hard for me to choose just one. One would be the very beginning of the school year when our youngest students began school. The arrival of children in kindergarten and the emotional episode that a parent who leaves a child for the first time goes through, especially if they are just enrolling with us. It is a new experience for the child and support is needed there.
We also experienced some challenging situations where children might have previously hidden what they had done for fear of being met with disapproval. But now, through the relationship we have built, the children knew they could come to report they had done something. They were able to, and wanted to, take responsibility for it and think about how they could solve it.
There were many projects that we worked on together with the children and presented outside of school. They were faced with some injustices and disappointments for the first time (the unfair distribution of prizes). But, somehow, the children returned satisfied and happy with what they achieved. I think that this reflects how we approach competitions at Bloom - it is not just about winning. In fact, we make sure that competitions are only attended by children who are fully prepared and will not emotionally experience defeat as a major disappointment, or question whether they are good or bad. Really well-rounded children - emotionally prepared children - go to competitions.
We also concluded this year with a fashion show in which all generations participated. Watching them walk out was very touching... So many moments from this year come to mind. I can't choose one.
The year was definitely like how life goes full of ups and downs, chaotic moments, cathartic moments, emotional moments. But at the end of the day, seeing how the children finished the year and how they moved forward to a higher level or another school, I can say it was a beautiful year.