A story that turned out better than I ever could have imagined involving 35 teachers from three rural schools serving 750 students, 5 cooks, 4 translators, 2 drivers, 4 American volunteers, and 18 donors!
By Serena Clayton
We embarked on this endeavor with the conviction that teachers and their practices in the classroom are at the heart of a quality education. Sionfonds has built classrooms, provided materials, paid teachers and served school lunches. Now it was time to support the teachers and help them to be more effective in the classroom.
We also embarked on this work with some trepidation. Would the teachers understand and embrace the new ideas we were presenting? Would the workshop respond to their needs? Would the translation work? Would there be food and beds for everyone? It was a complicated project.
The teachers and staff in Kenscoff hosted the workshop and arranged for all of our food. The teachers from Cavaillon traveled six hours and spent five nights at the Kenscoff school transformed into guest house. The teachers from Masson walked down a steep mountain and across a rocky river bed for a five hour round trip journey each day of the workshop.
Based on the recognition that as Americans, we don’t know how to teach in Haiti, we taught a process for collaborative learning and problem solving. We asked each school to map out resources in their communities that could be used for education: animals, crops, the sea, tradespeople and “the 94 year old man who has a book in his head about the history of the region.” They practiced demonstrating lessons, observing and providing feedback through “collaborative mentoring.” We shared the “story of our names” and wrote poems about where we come from to demonstrate community building in the classroom. We made simple books from sheets of paper with no staples or glue (it’s easy!), and the teachers shared ideas about how books made by their students could be used to improve literacy. We brought math manipulatives (tiles, cubes, counting boards) and brainstormed ways to use them to teach math concepts. We gave every school a wordless book and demonstrated how to engage the students in building their own story from the pictures, reinforcing the idea that writing is critical to learning to read.
We were impressed by how the teachers embraced all of these very foreign activities with open minds, and we were moved by their enthusiasm. The “academic scavenger hunt” on the last day provoked intense competition between the three schools. And the last item in the hunt, ‘write a song about your school” brought the house down with three hilarious performances.
We were simultaneously humbled and proud when, in the closing celebration, several groups demonstrated “collaborative mentoring”; others wrote songs; and one of the quietest members of the groups surprised us all with a beautiful poem honoring the school that hosted the workshop.
We know that training does not immediately change practice. The reality of teaching in any classroom, and especially in Haiti, makes it hard to implement new methods. However I am confident that at least some of the teachers will have their students make a book, will use the math materials, will problem solve together, or will invite the 94 year old man to speak. I am confident that all of the schools have a more cohesive group of teachers who feel validated and supported in a way that few teachers ever do in Haiti. I am confident that in a small way, we made a contribution to improving education for 750 kids in Haiti.
Thank you to everyone who was part of this story.
Please watch the video too!