After school, Teachers Learn

How do you keep students focused when the classrooms get too hot?

How do you handle learners who at times come with empty stomachs?

How do you handle a big class and keep them all engaged?

These are a few of the struggles the teachers at St. John’s Primary school wrote down during one of my seminars in Uganda. Additional issues that teachers mentioned included testing students in their non-native language, overcrowded classrooms, and keeping students interested in learning.

The school week was busy for the thirteen St. John teachers as they taught close to 400 students and prepared them for testing. They were kind enough to join me for three seminars that occurred after a long day of teaching. During these seminars, I focused on presenting information and techniques from articles written in our recent Recursos Magazine, a teacher resource magazine that was written, designed, edited and published by G.O.D. Int’l.

In each seminar, we provided cold water and snacks as teachers came worn out from the day. It’s the dry season, so it’s particularly hot as the sun bakes the tin roofs and makes the classrooms hot and stuffy.

During our first teacher seminar, I taught on Brain Breaks, something I practice regularly at the Academy for G.O.D where I teach. These breaks are interspersed throughout the day and are 1-15 minutes in length. They allow students to move and get their mind on something else, as a way to help them refocus and passively process the information just taught. I tried out the brain breaks in real time with the teachers as I intentionally lectured about brain breaks for 10 minutes. When I saw them become tired, I utilized a brain break which brought in a lot of laughter and a change of pace. I thoroughly enjoyed making the teachers laugh. Our East Africa Education Team also provided them with a booklet of ideas for brain breaks the teachers can use when they notice their students losing focus or just need a minute to do something else. It noticed the teachers incorporate brain breaks in the week following the seminar. I even saw one teacher letting students run around their building and then sit back down before finishing their class. Even within a short span of time, teachers testified that they had seen the students happier and with improved attention spans during the school day.

For our next two seminars we worked on creating active lesson plans that get students moving and out of their seats. I gave the teachers an example of different play-based learning activities and more games to help students memorize information by interacting with it differently than just reading and writing. When it came to the struggle of having large class sizes, I introduced the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development, an idea introduced to me by Academy for G.O.D. headmaster, Gregg Garner.

Basically, this recognizes the benefit of having mixed ages together and allowing other students who progress and do well in class to be with younger students who need more time with a subject matter. The older students may be able to explain the problem better and guide a particular student, while the teacher can then focus their time on students that need their direct attention. At the same time, it’s well known that if you want to really learn something, you should teach it. Thus, those older students are only better understanding their subject as they teach it to younger students. Teachers really appreciated the idea of utilizing gifted students to help other students.

Teachers were very appreciative for these seminars and are requesting more as we continue our relationship with St. John’s. I was very thankful for my time at St. John’s and love hearing the testimony from teachers that life and hope is returning to this school. It was once the poorest school in the area, but now they’re seeing life return to their students and that continues to give us hope in the Lord and faith to continue on as we see change.