By Mary Gibson, Director, Professional Development Schools, Marymount University
For the fourth spring break in five years, I felt honored to take a group of teacher candidates (five graduate students and one undergraduate this year) from Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, to AAH Junior School in rural Uganda. After several months of preparing as part of Marymount’s Education Research Methods course, the six students and I tugged our suitcases full of school supplies, books, school clothes, water bottles, snacks, head lamps, gifts for the school staff and workshop materials to Dulles airport in early April.
Our mission? To provide a workshop for the AAH teachers and then partner with the teachers to practice and implement the workshop techniques in their classrooms.
However, once we arrive, get acclimated, and make that first climb up the “hill” (mountain?) to the school, I am always struck by how our reason for being there grows. As we walked into the school compound on Friday, April 7, 2017, the school-wide assembly was beginning. The students had just finished raising the Ugandan flag and then raised the American flag while singing our national anthem. That tune tethered us to what was familiar and provided the push to embrace fully this new place and these new friends.
Friday’s theme was making connections with the teachers and students. The Marymount students met the teachers and classes they would work with, observing and soaking in all that is the Arlington Junior School. Now they had some background of their own, not just the stories I had shared with them, as we presented our workshop on Saturday. Our time sharing and teaching on Saturday was one of collegiality and partnering. The Marymount teachers worked with the AAH teachers on ways we try to engage students in talking and thinking about their learning. We tried the strategies out together, we talked about how they would work in the classrooms during different subjects, and we planned together on what the pairs would try the following week.
A natural connection of people with common goals working together to make them happen unfolded during the week. There was laughter. There was talking among the teacher pairs as to whether or not this was going to work or how to adjust the strategy, so that it would. There was chatter about the subject matter between the students. There was celebrating when what was tried actually worked! Most of all, there was authentic learning on all levels—AAH students, AAH teachers, and Marymount teachers.
That is the beauty of this partnership. We use the power of education to move everyone forward. By finding what is the same, we are able to find ways to address and embrace what is different. I love taking Marymount’s pre-service teachers on this trip, as it encourages them to grow as teachers and as citizens of our world. It reminds me why I am so proud to be a teacher!