Returning to Tute after the summer for a new year is always an exciting time. Just like in schools, we are looking forward to getting to know our students and beginning new lessons and courses with them and we return full of tales to tell of our summer break. Having had a little more adventure than usual, I really wanted to take some time to share with you some of the experiences I had this summer and what insights they’ve afforded me as we move forwards into another year.
For anyone not already aware, I was lucky enough to be released from my duties at Tute throughout July so as that I could spend some time working with an organisation called Limited Resource Teacher Training. LRTT work in developing countries to deliver teacher professional development opportunities that might not otherwise exist. Through them and with support from Tute, I was able to spend a month in Uganda delivering training and working with teachers in schools in the Kunungu District. I am truly grateful to the team for making this possible.
The experience was incredible. I spent time in both primary and secondary schools in the area and worked with 8 teachers who were attending conference workshops at the weekends and teaching during the week. In collaboration with the teachers (some of which had completed teacher training and had been teaching for several years, others who had not completed any formal training), a programme of professional development was devised. Over the programme we completed sessions on student engagement, assessment for learning, behaviour for learning, supporting students with SEND, effective questioning, differentiation for support and for challenge, groupwork, effective lesson planning and growth mindset.
These elements of pedagogy are fundamental pillars in the structure of teaching and learning here at Tute and, in my experience, Schools here in the UK. I was certainly excited to be able to share ideas and expertise in country with the local Ugandan teachers, as well as with my colleagues also on the programme from the USA, UK, Singapore and Australia. More than this though, I was excited to learn from the Ugandan teachers too; they are working in supremely difficult conditions with severely limited resources; far more challenging than anything most of us will have ever dealt with previously, so an opportunity to learn from them was inspirational. If you can teach effectively in those conditions, you can teach anywhere!
Examples of group work to promote engagement
When visiting schools in Uganda, the lack of resources was inescapable and the level of poverty in the area was unmistakeable, although (mercifully), I was not in an area where famine or draught had hit recently. Classrooms were brick buildings with dusty, earthen floors. The only resources were often chalk and blackboards, wooden desks and benches, paper and pencils that small children were whittling down with tiny blades kept in their pockets. If a resource such as a text book existed, there was one copy that belonged to the teacher that students couldn’t possibly have access to, meaning that diagrams or tables of information students needed couldn’t be photocopied or electronically displayed like we would automatically do here, but it had to be painstakingly duplicated on to the black board and copied exactly by students. The primary schools I visited often had 50-60 students per class and the secondary school I visited and worked most closely with was the only one on that side of the town; the only opportunity for education beyond primary in the immediate area.
What struck me most though was the absolute love of school and the positive energy within the classroom. Students were actively engaged and keen to learn and when I spoke to them about school they all told me that they loved being there. When you consider that students not in school would often be labouring on their family’s land, working in the home or caring for smaller children, it’s easy to understand why schooling provided not only much needed education, but also an escape from the harsh realities of life. When I conducted interviews and spoke to teachers there, they were inspirational; wanting to develop their own pedagogy and constantly improve the lessons they delivered to their students. Between both students and staff, there was a resolute belief and understanding that education provided a gateway to opportunities and enabled students to have aspirations for careers such as becoming teachers, doctors, nurses and agriculturalists.
I loved working with students and teachers in Uganda and am excited to continue to work with one of the schools in particular that I developed ties with whilst there. However, reflecting on my experience, there was a realisation that struck me most powerfully; for all the resources we have here in the UK and the lack of resources had in Uganda, there are universal truths that can be applied to almost any context:
– Learning takes place when teaching is good (or better!)
– Students learn more when they are effectively engaged.
These are facts I learned a long time ago, both as a classroom teacher and since moving to teach online here at Tute. It is at the core of what makes effective teaching and learning; regardless of whether you are teaching in a well-equipped, modern school building, in a sparse breeze block structure with no resources, or delivering online lessons using pioneering technology anywhere in the world.
Students collect pebbles to use for counting.
Coming back to the UK and to work and Tute, I am struck again by just how privileged we and our students truly are; we have every opportunity to facilitate their success and promote progress, but these two truths are ones I will return to in every lesson.
Here’s to another year of outstanding teaching and effective engagement.
Happy New Academic Year!
If you’d like to know more about teaching fellowships with LRTT, take a look at their website here: