In December, the Teacher Training program conducted a two-day training based on the MIT Launching Innovation in Schools program. This was different from other trainings that we’d run in the past in that it was open to anyone in an educational leadership role.
The training explored how leaders can support, inspire and guide their schools through the process of identifying an area in need of attention, trialing strategies to overcome these challenges, and evaluating the success and then adapting the strategy and moving through the cycle again. This process is challenging as it involves having to face unsettling realities, stepping into the unknown, and risking failure and criticism. However, the success stories of the schools who make that bold move are inspiring; they have been able to change their approach to challenges and shift their culture to one that is more innovative, enabling them to improve educational outcomes. This was the potential that we were hoping to unlock for the educators who attended our workshop.
When looking at the MIT resources provided, we recognized that whilst the premise was excellent, the actual videos and resources needed to be modified to be more relevant to a Tanzanian context. A case study on an iPad trial in the classroom, for example, was far too distant to the realities of a typical Tanzanian classroom, so we had to find an alternative. In the end, we used both our own Tanzanian examples and encouraged the participants to offer their own examples. The energy in the room was truly exciting as people really explored the possibilities for education in Tanzania.
This initial content-focused training was then followed up by four weekly Saturday morning sessions where we supported each other through the process of getting started: discussing goals, plans, challenges and trouble-shooting. The conversation during these sessions continued to be dynamic, open and fully of possibilities.
One fascinating observation from these sessions was that in spite of our initial concerns about the context of the content being too foreign at times, a number of the concerns raised resonated with the issues that are found outside of Tanzania as well, in well-developed countries with better resources.
Participants expressed concern about the viability of examinations as a means of evaluating potential ability for students – if teachers are just teaching to exams as a way of ensuring they look good when results come out, are they really helping their students? Is this strategy best for equipping students to be able to be competent adults, able to have a meaningful and productive life?
Participants raised the struggle they face in ensuring that children have the foundational elements of literacy and numeracy, when student absence and lack of parental education interfere with these efforts. Participants also expressed that the only way to support these students was to try and give them extra teacher time – time that then detracts from the teacher’s lunchtime or after school preparation time.
One that the Teacher Training team has also been grappling with themselves, is how to get people to answer our questions honestly. In order to get proper feedback so that you can best assess the situation and create appropriate change, how do you get students or staff who have been taught to fear authority to tell you the truth? Is it better with anonymity? Is it better one-on-one or in a group?
Although the developed and developing worlds are often treated as they are world apart, there are some very common concerns about the best way to improve educational processes that unite us all together.