First two training sessions down already. We’ve had full attendance both days, but we have started a pattern of starting about fifteen minutes late to include late attendees. I’m not sure how long we’ll be able to keep that pattern up, as it is annoying the on-time teachers. Yesterday we talked about Behaviour Management, and today it was setting up a positive environment in your classroom.
The teachers have found both sessions very interesting, particularly the first, and have been exposed to many techniques and ideas that are new. Behaviour Management has always been an easy flowing topic for me to share with teachers, as so much of my work in Kurdistan the past two years was based around creating and enforcing policy for it.
Our opening session was delayed about an hour after a massive, unseasonable downpour inundated the town. I was sitting on my porch at 2:45, wondering if I should make my way to the community center early, as I was starting to think the clouds above where getting ready to burst open. I hesitated, and the rain started a little before 3pm, unrelenting for about ninety minutes. Had I gone early, I would have been the only one present for nearly two hours. I did get to the center at 4pm, but even then the storm hadn’t subsided much, and I was completely saturated. We began shortly after the storm stopped. Within fifteen minutes of the rain concluding, everyone wandered in. They’d been content to wait it out. I couldn’t blame them.
In that first sessions there were several “light-bulb” moments for teachers.
One idea that went down very well was telling the teachers that they are the chief of their chiefdoms- the classroom- and need to remember to conduct themselves as such. It’s something that is culturally incongruent, as teachers in Sierra Leone are prone to excitement and anger in their classrooms. Examples I gave them were to not let an argument with a student break out in class.
The teachers’ reaction to my point was too funny. Some teachers leapt out of their seats in astonishment, and one or two teachers yelled that some students make them so angry that they refuse to be in the classroom. That particular comment got a strong murmur of agreement from the rest of the group.
I told the teachers to think through what happens in that case. If you, the teacher leave the classroom and the students are still there, than who’s still in the classroom? Who’s in charge of the room? Whose chiefdom is it now?
The look of sudden realization on some of their faces was too much. The realization that, if they stormed out of the classroom due to a student, they were relinquishing their control of the situation, and losing the students’ respect.
I followed the idea with Michelle Obama’s “they go low, we go high”. When students get angry (go low) you have to maintain your composure, and remind them who is the chief (go high). They loved the quote, and seized the idea. One teacher yelled out that he was planning to use it that night when he got into his daily argument with his wife. We all laughed.
In the second session I introduced another idea brought particularly for Bumpeh Academy, to “use the space”. The classrooms at Bumpeh are frequently in disarray, and instead of organizing the rooms, teachers have had a tendency, as Rashid and Daniel told me, (to which many teachers have agreed) to teach regardless of the state of the room or total lack of organization of chairs and desks.
In using the space, I brought up again the analogy of the chiefdom. If you are the chief, you should be able to go anywhere in your chiefdom. If the classroom is a mess, with unorganized desks cramped together, then your mobility as a teacher is severely limited. You can’t effectively solve problems, get to students who need help, or exercise your authority in the room. I told the teachers that in order to make sure their chiefdom is strong, they need good roads. And as a teacher that means lanes for your movement and control of the classroom, hence the need to organize the desks in the classroom.
I also stressed that rather than having the teachers themselves put fifty desks into place, use their fifty students to move the fifty desks, reinforcing personal responsibility and consistency for the students. And in doing so, the teachers could also create a real-world example of their expectations of the students, and a good tone-setter to begin any lesson.