In my last post, I explored how the well-intentioned question “how can I help” is often not the right question. Instead, international development should look to balance doing to or for with doing with. In today’s post, I want to share a recent example from our work with the Whole Child Model of how challenging this balance can be.
Earlier this year, STS’s Whole Child Model team met with local education officials in Tanzania to discuss the idea of peer coaching. We pitched the idea of asking teachers to serve as resources to one another rather than “expert mentors” coming in from the outside. We argued that while both peer coaches and external mentors are good, the latter can come with too hefty a price tag for most school systems. Instead, peer coaching offers an alternative in which teachers can share their expertise with other teachers in their schools – a model that can be sustained over time.
One tricky thing about doing with is how to start with dialogue, yet also be prepared to bring something to the table. In this case, we asked the authorities what their school-based support model was, whether it worked for them and whether they wanted to explore other models. When they said yes, we shared the idea of peer coaching, with some examples of specific models. We then asked them which peer coaching model would be best for their schools. Most importantly, we asked whether it would fit into their existing structures.
Armed with their ideas and endorsement, we then shared the recommended model with teachers, who were equally eager to start trying to be peer coaches to one another. Some agreed to meet every other week, some weekly. All agreed to observe their peers and share what they learned.
Will all this work? It’s too early to tell whether the model lasts, much less whether it will improve teaching and learning. But there’s one thing we’re hopeful about: whatever the outcome, the process of consultation and co-exploration will at least lead to partners that, with us, want to keep trying.