By Maria Helle, Head teacher in chess and mathematics at Essingeskolan, in Stockholm, Sweden.
Starting a Chess Program
It all started in 2008 when my students wanted to join Schack4an. At that time, I couldn´t play chess and I didn´t know what Schack4an was. I did some research and realized that it was a huge chess competition for fourth graders. During the same time, Jesper Hall held chess trainings for teachers in three courses with different difficulty levels. I attended all three courses and the more I learned about it the more convinced I became that chess was the right thing to invest in.
In the beginning, I didn´t see such great results except that my students thought chess was fun, but after a while I realized that I needed to start a real chess club at our school for us to develop and elaborate. Therefore, I asked the guardians to the students in my class if they could consider starting a chess club and join the board. Some volunteered and Essingeskolan’s chess club was formed.
It took many years before I found a good structure for the different parts that needs to be learned to be a good chess player, such as chess theory, minigames and the game itself. Over the years, I have had several principals and their view and commitment to teaching chess in school has varied a lot. My former boss didn´t completely support the whole take on teaching chess to the students, so therefore over those years when she was the principal it didn´t get a chance to grow. Without the support from my boss, it has been difficult to develop the activity and get my colleagues involved.
The big results started to come in 2015. Then both our fourth graders each won their group in the Globe and qualified for the national final in Västerås. The following year we won Yes2Chess and our first team got the honor to go to London in the fifth grade to represent Sweden and in the sixth grade they also won the competition and got to represent Sweden in Sicily.
The next milestone for our school was in 2018 when I became a head teacher in mathematics and chess at the same time as our school received the Swedish Chess Federation’s school certificate. A head teacher works partly as a regular teacher but is also responsible for some part of the school development. In my case, my school development project was to develop our focus in chess. This was the last step we needed to reach the top. In 2019 we won the national final in Schackfyran.
Also in 2019 I took “The ECU school chess teacher certificate”. Together with six of my colleagues we also took the “ECU Chess and Mathematics Teacher certificate” when Rita Atkins visited Essingeskolan in Stockholm.
This year we have taken another step and made clear goals for the six-year-olds up to the twelve-year-olds. All different grades have clear goals that we work towards during school hours and all students at our school have regular chess lessons during school hours. The students who want to work even more with chess can also work with this after school at our chess club.
In order to implement our chess specialization in all year groups, not only was my commitment sufficient, but a supportive principal was also needed. I asked my principal, Susanne Dybeck, about her thoughts on our focus:
“I see that chess relates to the school’s basic values work and the curriculum in mathematics. Through chess, abilities such as problem solving, strategy coordination, concentration and cooperation are trained. I also see what a great team spirit is created in the class. The students’ feedback is positive and the results in mathematics increase.
“We have chess on the schedule because it is a way to provide increased conditions and to create equality. Students show a great commitment to chess. Chess creates a sense of belonging and a team spirit throughout the school. We have something in common that we can be proud of. We see an increased goal fulfillment in mathematics. Chess is also part of the school’s core values work as belonging and team spirit create security, trust and peace of mind. Chess is part of the school’s preventive approach to abusive discrimination. Chess is a class activity as everyone is equally important, everyone contributes something.”
In conclusion, with this retrospective, I would like to point out that development must take time. It may suffice as a starting point to have a fiery soul who is passionate about chess. Then you can probably get to a
cozy school chess club. If you want to go beyond that and see clear results both in mathematics teaching and in terms of students’ playing level, you need a supportive school management, but then all teachers must also help and work together towards the same goal to achieve equality and commitment in all classes and in all grades. Together we are strong!