Empowering Teachers at St. John's Primary with New Techniques for Success
Rachel Hartnell, student at the Institute for G.O.D. and teacher at the Academy, has quite the summer project: empower teachers at St. John’s Primary to make language arts fun for their students. There are few others as well equipped as Rachel for the task. Her students at the Academy know her for the many dramatic personas she brings to the classroom, alongside creative games, lessons, and an overall enthusiasm that helps them all love school. Rachel is also on the East Africa team, so, transferring the skills she’s learned cross-culturally became the next challenge. We’re so proud of Rachel and the progress she’s making at St. John’s. Enjoy her report below!
This week, we conducted a teachers seminar with all of the St. John’s Teachers. The focus of the seminar was learning how to teach language arts in a fun and interactive way. I also wanted to bolster a greater sense of unity among the teachers, which I knew could happen quite naturally as I taught them to loosen up and have fun, just like we want their students to do. Enhanced learning doesn’t always require more supplies, sometimes it just takes fresh tactics and a cheerful heart. So, that was my goal, and I’m happy to say that from all appearances, we succeeded!
In order to teach their students to enjoy learning, I knew that the teachers would first need to gain enthusiasm and an understanding on how to incorporate "play" Into their classrooms. So, I took time to teach them the games and had them play as if they were the students! Though most schools in Africa value lecture-based learning, incorporating games to make learning playful can help children to learn without pressure. In fact, they often learn best when they’re having fun. So, when the teachers were taking the role of students in my seminar, I knew some changes were happening in their mindsets when laughter filled the room. At one point, the teachers were racing one another, laughing hysterically as they ran to find sight words hidden around the room. The headmaster himself chased down some words and enthusiastically handed them off to me, laughing as I tallied his points. Even the quietest teachers were smiling, sharing and jumping up and down with excitement and joy.
I taught them how to re-arrange the classrooms to permit games like this, and allowing them to focus on smaller groups of students when needed. While I taught, our summer interns served the teachers, bringing in water and snacks and filling certain roles as we played Sight Word Snakes & Ladders or Sight Word Hide & Seek. During our debrief, the interns said it was one of the most impactful moments they’ve had so far because they got to play a role in empowering teachers to bring new techniques to the classroom.
As the seminars continued, teachers who had initially been more closed off later engaged easily in conversation and even gave me hugs at the end. I think the best part was the constant laughter that filled the room, from the beginning to the end. We couldn’t get any good pictures of them running after each other and laughing because their constant movement made them blurry - but it was amazing!
The Headmaster ended our time saying that they had been shown how to do what they thought was impossible in the classroom. Josephine Ssemakula (G.O.D. Cooperative and teacher at St. John’s) said, “I knew it would be good, but I did not know it would be that good!” Lawrence said, “These games will make teaching easy and learning will be full of fun.”
I wrapped up the seminar with a encouragement from the Word explaining that when we create environments with the consideration of a child's perspective, we bring God’s Kingdom into our classrooms. I challenged them that with each lesson they make to ask themselves: if they were a child, would they enjoy the lesson?
A few days after the seminar, I challenged the teachers to try a few of the games they learned. I went to their class to help when needed, but tried not to interfere so that hey could facilitate it on their own. Some of them appeared nervous at first, but by the end they were laughing and playing with their students. They all did so well. The classrooms were filled with smiles and cheers, it was like you could feel the Lord smiling on us.
We repeat Josephine’s sentiment, “We knew it’d be good, but we didn’t know it’d be that good.” Praise God.