I only have one more week left here in Gulu, Uganda which is hard to believe; time really does fly! I thought I would use this blog post update you on my projects at work, as they are wrap up this week.

(The picture above is downtown Gulu at sunset last weekend).

The main project I’ve been working on this summer is an action-research project designed to bring together teachers from our NGO-run accelerated education program and teachers from the government primary schools (where my organization’s program classrooms are housed). I’ve been spending a day at each school each week for the last five weeks to meet with teachers and visit classes where teachers discuss and experiment to see how some of the learner-centered and core instructional strategies (like using group work, activity-based learning (such as projects, game-based learning, or excursions/field trips), or formative assessment strategies) from our program can be adapted for the government school classroom context.

That is the idea! I have learned a lot through the implementation.

One of the action-research schools – the courtyard during a rainstorm.

An interesting issue is that in Uganda, government primary school classes are large (see this short blog post on early grade bottlenecks written by one of the IEDP guest speakers from this past year!). At the schools where we’re doing the action-research, I would estimate that primary grade classes typically have between 50-100 learners per class, with an average of 60-70.

Classroom spaces often aren’t necessarily bigger in size, which means we’ve had to think carefully about furniture arrangement, grouping, and teacher and student movement within the classroom (in addition to adapting teaching strategies – like group presentations or assessments). Additionally, teachers may face challenges with limited supplies and a pretty crowded curriculum.

I have felt that collaboration could not be more important in this type of project. In working with government schools, it is super critical to have strong partnerships with teacher training colleges, the local education officials, and head teachers (school principals). As an NGO, we have to ensure that any work like this is directly connected to government policy objectives and systems. And fortunately, it is!

Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) has already endorsed and supported active, learner-centered teaching strategies for many years and we’re working to support teachers in adopting and adapting these methods. The NGO staff here already have really strong partnerships with government officials, which has been critical for this action-research.

As it is our last week this week, we are using this week to 1) showcase the instructional strategies that teachers have been practicing and experimenting with, and 2) discuss sustainability of this education community of practice model with teachers, partner organizations, and education officials. I’m also working to gather all the insights and ideas from the teachers and compile them into a document that would be useful to share with other schools and teachers. Learning from my colleagues about who to engage and how to contact them to join us (hand-delivered invitation, email, or phone call) has been invaluable.

This project has made me think a lot about:

1. The importance and challenges of NGOs working in close partnership with government – it seems critical for the program to align with existing policies and initiatives to be sustainable, but also this has raised interesting issues around power dynamics and funding.

2. How school-based, continuous professional learning for teachers (like the education community of practice model we’re using) has to foster teacher buy-in – just like we’re asking teachers to use learner-centered teaching in their classes, this model of professional development tries to use some of the same principles of active and participant-led learning. Explaining the purpose and helping teachers see how strategies can work in their own classroom with their learners has been important for buy-in (but also it hasn’t always worked, which has been interesting to see and learn more about why).

3. This education community of practice where teachers share ideas and collaborate for professional learning also assumes and supports a relatively flat power structure and collaborative environment among staff, which may or may not align to the norms that teachers are used to in teacher education and workplace authority/power dynamics. I want to read more widely about teacher professional learning and learn more about models from diverse educational systems. Learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so the social dynamics of education systems and structures definitely have an impact on teacher professional learning.

I’ve been working on other projects as well and supporting the on-going operations of the program, but I’ll save those for a last, reflective blog post.

Outside of work, I’ve been enjoying meeting the interesting people that come to stay at the guesthouse, one of my colleagues took me shopping and I bought way too many colorful baskets and beautiful fabrics, and I’ve settled into a weekday and weekend routine here in Gulu. I hope this post have given you an idea of what I’ve been working on and provides a snapshot of some of the topics and issues I’ve been learning about. See you next week Philly!