“Chora, chora, chora!!” came the enthusiastic instructions as I sat among my Standard One classmates at Emasare Primary School. I was engaged as an observer, participant, teacher’s assistant, and learner – all in one go. The Class One teacher had agreed to be observed and receive feedback following the Education Beyond Borders (EBB) workshops he had participated in during the previous three days. During our pre-conference he asked if I would be comfortable in being involved in the lesson a bit. As it was an informal observation, and it had been a year since I was in a primary class of any kind, I smiled at the chance. Then, just before we entered he reminded me that most of the instruction would be in Kiswahili, and I smiled even more, as my Kiswahili is in serious need of a development.
We entered the class, I was warmly welcomed, and within a few minutes the lesson on domestic animals was rolling. While I took observation notes, curious six year olds were sneaking glances my way as they also tried to pay attention to their enthusiastic teacher whom they clearly enjoyed. The instructions and expectations were incredibly clear to all of us, including the larger student in the second row that had a less than rudimentary grasp of the language of instruction, me. It spoke volumes about the teacher’s passion and engagement strategies. While trying to keep his young class focused he also challenged himself to try a new collaborative learning strategy he had only learned two days earlier. It was here that I learned that chora is Kiswahili for draw, as we were all given a spot on a collaborative graphic organizer to draw domestic animals – including me. The lesson continued with sharing, more drawing, animal sounds, animal movements, and finally sculpting.
Between our energetic greeting at the opening of the lesson, and my heartfelt departure, not a single word was exchanged between any of my Class One companions and I. However, the smiles, the looks, and the unmistakable shared feeling that we were in something fun and exciting together was more than enough to communicate to me that they enjoyed learning, and enjoyed their teacher. He had committed to taking risks with methodologies that were new to him. Even more impressive was nearly all his colleagues at Emasare had done the same thing – and they all opened their classrooms to me. Each one had a story that I look forward to sharing with you another time.
A year ago I spoke about schools being places of people. As I observed four classes at Elsamere on Thursday I saw passionate teachers taking first time risks so that their students could maximize opportunities. I saw hands-on investigations in Class Four/Five, collaborative learning around fishing resources in Class Seven, and students asking in depth questions in Class 8. None of it had anything to do with where they were – but everything to do with the people they were with.