For the first time in three years, I was able to travel to our Whole Child Model implementation schools in Tanzania. My objective: to see if teachers who attended our trainings are able to apply the strategies we introduced.
Poking my head into classrooms, I see the usual: students sitting 10 to a bench, 80 or more to a classroom, alphabet charts on the walls, dirt on the floors. I’m heartened by the fact that the benches are grouped so that, even in tight quarters, students can learn from one another. Some students are even sprawled across desks to hear their classmates read a story or to watch them assess their work. In one school, every teacher demonstrates how they teach their students in groups and how each group has a leader who assesses the work of the others. One strategy applied: ability grouping.
In discussions with teachers, we ask about another strategy we introduced – peer coaching, where teachers serve as coaches to each other. In most instances, teachers tell us they have created schedules and meet every week or two. With their “peer coach teammate,” they co-plan, observe lessons, and give feedback. A second strategy applied!
In my last two blogs, I noted that the question “How can I help?” can be fraught with danger. Instead of teaching colleagues and friends “to fish,” we risk providing fish and thus creating dependency. Yet, in these two instances, it seems teachers are “fishing,” making ability grouping their own and learning how to be resources to one another.
And yet, there is still much to do. At the end of every visit, we ask teachers: “Do you have any questions for us?” Most responded with a litany of requests: for food (many students only eat once per day and come to school hungry), for drinking water (limited rainfall has left cisterns low), and in one instance, for help emptying a latrine. In time, we hope to help teachers address these needs. But for now, we’re reminding ourselves to take one need at a time. It’s one project to improve teaching. It’s another to ensure that children have what they need to focus, learn, and not get distracted by basic needs many of us take for granted.