by Suzzanne Pautler
Necessary Arts realizes that we cannot fly in to Nairobi, teach for a few days, and then leave, if we want the Reach the Unreachable Program to become sustainable. The question has been bouncing around our heads for some time about how to create that sustainability during our absence. AMREF shared a great deal with us about how they have organized educational programs around the country, even reaching some fairly remote villages. They have found that the mobile phone is the tool to achieve success. Additionally, AMREF introduced us to the Dagoretti Project, a school that reaches out to street kids to help them move through various stages towards rehabilitation. The school does focus on traditional academics, but is more invested in the visual and performing arts, as the students respond so well to this non-traditional academic environment. The teachers there are eager to exchange information with other teachers, and therefore invited us to lead a teacher training program on site.
Today was Necessary Arts first attempt to do professional development here in Kenya. Four teachers and eight student teachers met with us for discussion and collaboration. We began the workshop with the visualization of a classroom that is so effective that each student learner is being challenged. From there, we asked the teachers to list with a partner nine teaching strategies that were used in that classroom to make that lesson so effective. The dialogue immediately switched to Swahili and they were off! The teachers were so passionate about their responses that when we asked two groups to merge and choose their combined top five strategies, some fairly heated discussions took place. The conversations took much longer than I anticipated, but since the teachers were so engaged, I did not want to interrupt. Eventually we shared with them an article from an educational researcher's perspective about the five most effective classroom strategies, which moved our conversation forward in comparison and contrast.
The most important strategy, according to the article, is that the teacher articulates a clear plan and objective for the lesson. We introduced the teachers to the Understanding by Design protocol, focusing mostly on stage one, where the teacher must define the enduring understandings and essential questions. We shared some examples specific to the visual and performing arts to clarify our point. Teachers seemed to grasp that the "big ideas" are important when organizing a lesson. At this point, we decided to go outside to the garden to work with the children. Each of the twelve teachers would work with four students. We gave each group one of our red cards featuring words such as freedom, global citizenship, and equality. After some discussion with the students, the teachers led them through a drama exercise in using one's face and one's body to express the word. The group created a tableau, or a statue, to define the word. The students and teachers were engaged in the activity and put great thought and effort into their work.
The teachers returned to our workspace to continue the dialogue about what enduring understanding and essential questions could be written to support such a learning activity. "Does justice exist?" was the first big question that arose. Once again, the teachers engaged in thoughtful dialogue about the concept at hand, which eventually transitioned into feedback about the workshop. Ultimately, they can hardly wait for us to return to continue the conversations! One gentleman explained that the teaching staff is like a machine. They work together and make progress. Necessary Arts is the oil that comes in to keep them working their best. I thought it was a beautiful analogy to express the exact sentiment we tried to share with them.
The teaching staff at this school are doing an amazing job. We have witnessed the success during each visit. However, sharing professional conversations and encouraging one another by pushing our thinking can only result in a positive outcome. The teachers are eager for us to share more learning activities. When I shared that our drama and theatre arts expert would lead our next workshop, the music teacher raised his hand and responded, "Please don't forget about the music department!" We were so impressed by the seriousness to which they approached this professional development opportunity, that we will not forget the teachers at Dagoretti. They, along with all the students we have worked with during this visit to Kenya, are tucked into a special little pocket in our hearts.