By Education Director, Timothy Kerr
Picture learners in groups, many deeply engaged in discussions, several predicting whether an object is an insulator or a conductor, others attaching wires to voltmeters to test their predictions, some recording their findings. Imagining a high school Physics lesson?
Nope, this was actually a scene from our recent teacher professional development workshop at Oldeani Secondary School that focused on student-centered pedagogies and different forms of assessment and evaluation. At the end of the workshop over lunch teachers continued to discuss their new learning with each other and many asked when the next seminar will be. In their reflections on what they have learnt and found interesting, teachers wrote responses such as “how to assess and evaluate my students”, “the joy of group discussions”, “how to motivate my students through teaching methodologies”, “how to learn from each other”. Excitingly, Oldeani Secondary School teachers expressed their appreciation for finally being able to be shown and participate in hands-on learning for things they have only ever heard about. Indeed, one of the caveats of teacher training colleges in Tanzania (and arguably world over) is that learners only ever get told about participatory teaching methods.
As I read these reflections, my mind flashed back to January 2016, when I invited teachers to share their needs for a teaching seminar, to which the majority responded with “we are not a training institute; there is nothing we still need to learn.” In that moment of comparison I realized just how much culture has shifted at Oldeani Secondary over the past two years. The change in school culture towards professional development and continued learning is now palpable.
While a change in culture is hard to measure, we know for certain it begins with teachers’ attitudes towards learning. The best teachers are learners. They are reflective and curious. They are the ones who ask questions and are the first to tell their students that they don’t have all the answers but invite them to find the answers together. We also know that teachers as learners have the greatest impact on learning outcomes. As educational researcher John Hattie notes, “The biggest effects on student learning occur when teachers become learners of their own teaching, and when students become their own teachers.” (Visible Learning).
In a school on a small hill, in a dusty rural northern Tanzanian town, change is happening.