Teachers Learning Circle

Developing Group Spirit: Teachers Reflect on Impacts to Students' and Their Own Lives from Teacher Learning Circles in 2017

On December 16, Dr. Jerry and teachers from the College des Saviors, Kapini, and Lukunga schools convened their last Teacher Learning Circle (TLC) of 2017 to reflect on what they had learned in 2017 and what they looked forward to in 2018. Present at the meeting were also guests from the Education Ministry.

To begin, they discussed the quantifiable numbers of 2017: seven small group teacher meetings, six large group meetings, and three schools involved. At each meeting, teachers shared best practices, discussed classroom issues, and brainstormed solutions.  

Then they discussed the equally important, harder to quantify impacts of the Teacher Learning Circles: inspiring a fight against erosion in the Kapini’s school community, mentorship, improved teacher-student rapport, socialization, and the reinforcement of school curriculum.

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The compounding impacts of things like better teacher-student rapport made even larger waves, changing the very way that students and teachers related to one another, and in some cases, even changing the styles of teaching for some. Before participating in the TLCs, one teacher was known for his saying: “everyone for himself, God for all.” But throughout his participation, he began to find ways to teach to students at all performance levels, not just to students who were already strong academically. “Through the learning circle, he developed the group spirit,” Dr. Jerry remarked.

Several other teachers noted similar changes in their philosophies. Mr. Chancard remarked that helping the students who struggle most benefits everyone. “The weak will become strong and the strong will become stronger.”

Teachers became more comfortable with students, less strict, and more open to new teaching methods, and in turn, students gained confidence, learned how to communicate with adults, and looked forward to attending school.  

Attendees also highlighted potential areas for improvement in 2018, desiring to disseminate reports from the TLCs and to find a way to bring the message of the TLCs, and the curriculum its built around, to a larger audience. One of the visitors from the Education Ministry suggested starting a newsletter to report on TLC meetings.

Participants also gave an overview of the distinct student-centered, asset-based teaching program that has been in place at College des Saviors over the past five years. Many remarked how it has brought not only a new way of teaching, but a new way of looking at life.

Goals for 2018 include sending a College des Saviors delegation to Lukunga school to help them with their student garden, as well as collecting more indicators about impacts to the students from the curriculum, including reading, writing, and attendance markers. To end the day, participants answered a reflection question to prepare for themselves for the new year. They asked themselves: how will you improve your teaching this year? After celebrating progress and planning for next steps, the teachers are ready to take on the new year.

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If you missed our blog post detailing what exactly is a Teacher Learning Circle, refresh your memory, here.

Indiana University PhD Candidate Studies Teacher Learning Circles at College des Saviors, Partner Schools

Giving Back to Africa was excited to welcome Indiana University PhD Candidate Jennifer Lund to College des Saviors in October for a whirlwind on-the-ground tour of its Teacher Learning Circles (TLCs). Lund met GBA co-founder Dr. Ann Marie Thomson in the fall of 2015 and was presented with the possibility of cataloging six years of GBA data. For Lund, a PhD Candidate at in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education with a concentration in international and comparative education, applying her specialized education and professional skills to a data project for a service learning nonprofit just made sense. As Lund puts it: “So, having spent several wintry days with Ann Marie looking at pages and pages of handwritten lesson plans and course reflections in French, the idea of focusing on teacher professional development in the DRC became a very real possibility.”

Fast forward almost two years to Lund’s inaugural trip to DR Congo. The data project she began in 2015 has turned into a dissertation topic. Her goal is to analyze GBA through the lens of teacher professional development, using the Teacher Learning Circles as a case study. “I will explore how a specific group of teachers affiliated with GBA have evolved over time to become teacher-mentors,” she explains.

GBA has been using Teacher Learning Circles for about two years now. TLCs bring teachers from different schools together to workshop their classroom ideas and discuss problems. Lund notes that TLCs are not new in the toolkit of professional development overall, but they are relatively new in DR Congo. TLCs cultivate solidarity for teachers and provide a safe space in which they can share their trials and successes, their questions and proposed solutions.

“In this way, TLCs build confidence and help teachers feel like they are not alone in their problems,” Lund says. “TLCs promote a student-centered classroom and the teachers learn to support each other so that they can in turn learn to support their students.” This student centered-approach lies at the heart of GBA’s mission as well. College des Saviors leverages students’ assets-- their knowledge, community roles, and talents-- to breathe life into the service learning model. Students have executed many community projects over the past six years, including a Students’ Learning Garden, by carefully researching and learning about topics like water and waste management and then applying them to real-life issues.

“One of the most important tenants of the TLC is that every person should have a voice,” Lund remarks. “This is something that is transferable to the classroom where even the weakest students are deserving of attention and encouragement.” TLCs encourage students and teachers alike to lead.

 Lund meets with Director Sebastien 

Lund meets with Director Sebastien 

 Lund shadows a class

Lund shadows a class

Throughout her visit, Lund was able to tour the Student Learning Garden, observe classes, and engage in conversations with the community. She visited twp partner schools and conducted focus groups with teachers and administrators. She interviewed each school’s principal and spent time shadowing daily interactions. She even met with DR Congo Education Ministry Inspector Veronique Shako, who was interested in planning a visit to College des Saviors to learn more in person. 

 School staff and Lund visit the garden

School staff and Lund visit the garden

 College des Saviors teachers introduce Lund to the school's programs 

College des Saviors teachers introduce Lund to the school's programs 

When asked about what she found most striking about the trip, she notes the rich way in which music permeates all aspects of life in DR Congo. “As a musician myself, I had the very great honor to end my trip by taking part in a rehearsal of the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra through a series of connections.  I was handed an extra violin, given some music, and ended up playing in (sight-reading, mind you!) what was really more of a concert for American dignitaries from the U.S. embassy who happened to be visiting that evening. I felt completely accepted by my Congolese section-mates who chatted with me and sent an encouraging grin my way after we finished a tough passage.  That pretty much sums up my impression of Kinshasa.  Be ready to improvise in the face of a challenge, but you will always have friends, music, and laughter there when you need them.”

With the TLCs at College des Saviors and its partners, that’s exactly what they are aiming to do: improvise in the face of a challenge, with a circle full of friendly faces to help them through the tough passages.

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Jennifer Lund is a PhD Candidate at Indiana University in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education with a concentration in international and comparative education. She holds an MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from Michigan State University. Her specialties are teaching and teacher professional development, having worked in southern Thailand as an English Language Fellow and Nancy, France as a university-level English lecturer. Pending approval of her dissertation proposal and additional funding, Lund would like to return to Kinshasa in 2018 to continue data collection.

College des Savior and Kapini Schools Partner Up to Combat Erosion

For many months now, College des Savior has been working with the nearby Kapini school to bring teachers into the GBA curriculum and expand the base of community knowledge and expertise. This has involved one-on-one mentoring and observation, group reflections, and staff trainings.  Now, as erosion threatens the Kapini school’s neighborhood, the two schools are using the skills they have been practicing to tackle a whole new type of challenge.

College des Savior and Kapini staff met with community members, students, and parents in early March to discuss the erosion issue and brainstorm solutions. GBA PM, Dr. Jerry Kindomba, introduced the meeting with a community-building game and called for the group to think of their actions like that of a tree with many branches, able to spread good work throughout the community. The group listened to an expert speak on potential solutions to the erosion issue. Together, they forged a three-step plan of action to 1) promote local and government awareness of the issue, 2) redirect the road in the erosion area, and 3) use sandbags and plant bamboo trees to help control the erosion.

 Participants join in the conversation at the first outreach meeting

Participants join in the conversation at the first outreach meeting

Just a week later, College des Savior and Kapini participated in another community meeting to educate additional community members about the campaign. College des Savior and a group of Kapini parents donated erosion prevention sandbags to the Kapini school to kick-off the donation effort. Another community member has also pledged to donate 2500 bags, and the initiative has the backing of several local government officials. A handful of pastors from area churches also agreed to take the messages to their congregations. This meeting also included a walk-through of the affected areas to talk to people in-person about the issue and the efforts to resolve it. A third community meeting took place on April 2nd.

 Sandbags, like the one pictured above, will be used to fight the erosion

Sandbags, like the one pictured above, will be used to fight the erosion

 Meeting participants toured the affected areas and met with neighbors

Meeting participants toured the affected areas and met with neighbors

College des Savior and Kapini are proving that their relationship and practiced skills extend beyond the classroom and into real life. Giving Back to Africa’s curriculum encourages the solving of real-world problems through collaboration that leverages community resources, emphasizing that all parties have knowledge and tools to bring to the table. This is exemplified through the use of knowledge of the local area and ecosystem, sandbags, bamboo trees, and personal connections to fight the erosion. Willing to work together on this pressing, local issue, the two schools are applying their lessons learned not only about science and nature, but also about engaging the community, employing assets, and unity.