Remember what started this whole adventure in creating the Inspire Early Learning Program? It’s true that necessity is the mother of invention! One of EduCAN’s primary guiding principles is to practice sustainable development. If that phrase is new to you, one of the things it means is doing development in a way that will outlive your direct involvement.
With this village asking for a “preschool,” how can we use this opportunity to give them what they want but also look to the future? One answer to that question is to train trainers. I don’t need to learn how to teach in a preschool. I’ve done that and loved it.
In consulting with the director of our local partner organization, she searched through their Community Development team to find persons suited to and interested in this type of work. She found several and they attended the first planning meeting.
We decided we would take the 15 children who had signed up and work with them for three months. We would arrange two three-hour sessions per week. The village leaders gave us a room at the mosque community center to use. We planned our first two days of activities. Then we spent the next week gathering the materials we’d need to get started.
Some of the things we gathered include a long, thick rope that we could use in the class for circle time and various movement activities. We gathered some art supplies. We gathered plastic bottle caps in as many different colors as we could find. They make great counters and patterns. The one assigned to snack time searched the local market for red apples. Our letter for the week was “A” and the focus color was “Red.” (Would you have guessed that from the snack?)
The first day arrived and child after child shyly filed in. They looked around at the brightly painted tables and the alphabet tree on the wall. The four from the Community Development team welcomed each child. None of the four had significant experience as teachers, but they were eager and energetic.
The first day was pretty chaotic as we established routines and communicated our expectations. We all left feeling drained, but hopeful.
As the first month went on, we developed a good class routine. The four new teachers slowly added the new strategies we introduced. Little by little we improved the environment and had fun doing it. The kids continued coming and melding right into the new classroom atmosphere.
I discovered in that first month that typical local classroom management consists of shouting the child’s name from across the room and giving him or her big wild, angry eyes to express your disdain. Once I saw this pattern, we quickly implemented the 1-2-3 strategy that I first discovered in the book, “Elementary Science Methods, A Constructivist Approach” by David Jerner Martin. He gives the following steps: (1) call the individual by name; (2) tell them what you observe and want stopped; and (3) give the reason why, “and it’s not ‘Because I said so’.” We also added the “pre-steps” of going to them and getting down on their eye level.
When I introduced this strategy, the new teachers just looked at me like I had a third eye. I could read their expression and they were saying, “Are you crazy? This will never work!” But I persisted and they graciously gave it a try.
Over the remainder of the course, the teachers consistently implemented the 1-2-3 strategy and THEY SAW RESULTS! The classroom was quieter, calmer, and the children were more responsive. Did all misbehavior stop? Of course not…they’re kids! But was it greatly reduced? Yes! Did the teachers and kids feel heard and respected through these interactions? Yes!
Two of the four teachers continued all the way to the end of the course. We learned many more strategies. Developed many fun learning centers. And simply had a great time. We were sad that it was coming to an end. However, we were excited when the leader of the local preschool open the door for us to help her and their teachers. She and several teachers had visited us multiple times during class. It seems they liked what they saw.
Bill and Karen, new to the EduCAN international professional development team joined us in the pilot program. We look forward to them sharing their years of experience and heart to help.
Now, we are planning an intensive summer training for them while the preschool is on break. We’ll hear more about that in the next post.
Three important outcomes from the pilot jump to the top of my mind. First, the local village teachers have invited us into their circle of influence. That’s a huge step toward sustainability. I won’t always live in this village, but they probably will.
Second, we have had reports from parents that indicate clear development outside of class. Remember the 25 Goals? Parents told us things like, “My son will not let me help him put on his shoes; he insists on doing it himself.” Or, “My daughter used to spill things all the time, but now she handles cups and plates much better.”
Third, the two teachers from the Community Development team feel energized and committed to this project. They give first-hand testimony to what they’ve tried and seen work. They represent an important force in training others and taking this program to the villages who have already requested the program.
I have to say, I am delighted with the pilot experience. It has revealed several areas to edit and expand in the manual and what needs to focus on for the summer intensive training that’s coming up.