Blog post by Mading Peter Angong. Mading is a teacher from Shambe Primary School, Kakuma Refugee Camp and a beneficiary of Teachers for Teachers Training, Mobile Mentoring and Peer Coaching initiative.

Education is the only tool that gives back the lost dignity to refugee children. The thirst for education among the multinational refugee children in Kakuma Refugee Camp is insatiable. Effective education is only achieved through effective teachers, for great teachers create great students. In fact, an inspired and informed teacher is the most important factor influencing student achievements.  Nowhere in the world are such teachers needed more than in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Turkana County, north-eastern Kenya.

The unexpected appearance of Teachers for Teachers led by members from Teachers College, Columbia University (TC), the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), UNHCR and Finn Church Aid (FCA) brought a needed solution: training, mentoring and coaching of teachers. Led by Dr. Mary Mendenhall and her team, the program in the camp was set in motion. The writer of this article, one of the teachers in Kakuma, benefited immensely from this training.

What is Teachers for Teachers

The Teachers for Teachers training provides many opportunities for teachers to experience practical steps in the implementation of four core competencies designed specifically for teachers in crisis contexts: 1) Pedagogy; 2) Curriculum and Planning; 3) Child Protection, Well-being and Inclusion and 4) Teacher’sRole and Well-being. The program emphasizes practical content delivery, creates innovative ideas on increased use of available educational technologies in crisis contexts and provides programs aimed at ensuring that teachers give the best to their learners.

Support for new teachers in Kakuma is often uneven and basic. Even if well-prepared, new teachers are assigned to the most challenging school environments without much follow up support. With their experiences, the Teachers for Teachers team has successfully carried out training, mentoring and coaching to support teachers in Kakuma to overcome the challenging tasks they face everyday in their classrooms and schools. Working with the Teachers for Teachers team members and perhaps more importantly with fellow teachers in Kakuma is critical to the successful growth of a new teacher. Teachers for Teachers creates opportunities for teachers in Kakuma to learn from best practices, analyze and reflect on their teaching.

Ongoing support

It is critical for teachers to have ongoing and regular opportunities to learn from one another. With this in mind, Teachers for Teachers emphasizes peer coaching, a continuous professional development approach that includes Teacher Learning Circles (TLCs). In TLCs, teachers are grouped with five or six of their colleagues and they share their experiences. They openly discuss challenges and assist one another with ideas and come up with possible solutions. Teachers also celebrate their teaching successes in TLCs. Collaboration among teachers from different schools in the camp keep teachers up-to-date on new research on how children learn, emerging technological tools for classrooms, new curriculum resources and new ideas about school management. The program also emphasizes the importance of working with pupils to understand their culture -- something very important in Kakuma which hosts refugees from more than seven countries.

In addition to peer coaching, Teachers for Teachers has a mentorship program called mobile mentoring. Before Teachers for Teachers, I never knew how to apply my smart phone in school and classroom management. Through mobile mentoring, I learned to share my challenges on WhatsApp with my colleagues in Kakuma and other educators around the world. Here, my colleagues from other schools also shared their similar experiences and how they solved the challenges they faced. When I pose a challenge in my WhatsApp chat, teachers also suggest a variety of ideas to overcome my challenges. Mobile mentoring is fast and provides instant feedback to my questions. It has reduced the daily stress of solving problems single-handedly in Kakuma schools.

Teacher training

Teachers for Teachers provides effective teacher training and continuous professional support that gives teachers confidence to face their daily challenges. The training helps teachers understand what may cause them to feel stressed or what leads to teacher burnout. This could be daily teaching in the face of extraordinary challenges and/or not having the knowledge and skills to vary the methods of teaching. Teachers for Teachers focuses on particular areas like classroom management, different methods of presenting lessons, ensuring inclusive learning and creating confidence in teachers. In teaching, reading a book and hearing teachers talk about lessons is not enough. Recognizing this, Teachers for Teachers provides needed practice teaching combined with effective peer coaching and mentoring to help teachers understand what is required from them in their positions. The program has created terrific teachers who create long lasting impact on pupils.

During the training, peer coaching and mobile mentoring, we learned to love being a teacher. Teachers for Teachers made me realize how my simple activities in school can have big global impact. With love and passion, the potential of giving the best to our students is limitless. I used to be so busy with many school activities, not because I didn’t care, but because I got caught up in the day-to-day routine of teaching to the extent that I forgot my pupils have lives outside the school. Armed with new knowledge from the training, peer coaching and mobile mentoring, I got to know my students on personal level and learn how to balance personal relationships without crossing the red line between my pupils and myself. This new approach of forming close relationships with my pupils enables me to become an effective teacher due to the trust and respect my learners and I share.

In Teachers for Teachers, we learned to think widely and improvise available materials as teaching resources. We learned that teaching becomes exciting to pupils in a multitude of ways because children learn differently. We explored different teaching strategies and differentiated learning to reach every pupil in our class. What works for one learner may not work for another. Teachers, after Teachers for Teachers, became willing to be creative and innovative in their lessons. We realized teaching every concept in the same manner is not only boring -- for learners and teachers -- but it can leave out pupils who miss key factors because they may not be wired to learn that way.

One of the major tools learned during training is for a teacher to be proactive rather than reactive. The program trained us to carry out intense planning and organization which ultimately makes our job less difficult and more enjoyable. We learned to plan ahead, looking for aspects of our lesson or class that may have potential issues and proactively seek solutions.

Teachers for Teachers has achieved a lot though more work needs to be done. More teachers are yet to enroll in this program. I was recently amused when two of my pupils confidently walked to my desk and reported that our teachers are becoming better. Enquiring further, I realized that they were talking about two of my colleagues whom class 8 pupils had previously expressed difficulty in understanding their lessons. These teachers were also beneficiaries of Teachers for Teachers training program. Perhaps one day, all of my colleagues in Kakuma will get an opportunity to benefit from this wonderful initiative.