WORKING WITH TEACHERS
Teaching in Nicaragua is a challenging proposition. Teachers are charged with the responsibility of preparing their students for the 21st century, but are afforded very few materials or quality training. When they do receive support, they are often offered new ideas, but without the materials necessary to implement them. Or they may get new materials from NGOs, but without the training on how best to use them. Our vision, then, is to pair quality materials with quality teacher training and support so that our project truly has the best chance of being successful at improving the education of elementary children.
Leveraging Resources to Serve More Schools
Unlike other non-profits that spend a lot of money buying the materials needed to stock a few schools in an area, our model leverages our resources to be able to offer our materials and services widely. Participating teachers check out teaching posters, math materials, mini-libraries and, most importantly, class sets of beautiful guided reading books. Each unit in our Teacher Resouce Center is designed to take between 1 to 3 weeks to implement. Therefore, once this teacher has finished the unit it can be returned so that another teacher can borrow it.
Creating a Teacher Resource Center
We've had the idea for creating a Teacher Resource Center for many years. However, we needed someone with a strong background in education and the respect of the local Ministry of Education to be able to run this new program. Our head librarian Irma Gómez López took on this challenge by completing a rigorous 5 years of study to receive her Master's in Education. Between her experience in our library programs and her dedication to her studies (she graduated top of the class!) Irma had a wealth of knowledge about elementary education and the reputation needed to gain the trust of the Ministry of Education and local teachers. Finally, in 2010 everything was in place to pilot our new program.
In our first year we had to stock the Teacher Resource Center on a tight budget as we didn't know how well the program would work. We puchased trade books on sale and photocopied class titles of guided reading books available as blackline masters. By the end of this first year the response from the teachers we worked with was so positive we knew we were on the right track with the concept for the Teacher Resource Center.
As we moved forward, we decided to be more strategic in the aquisition of materials for the center. There was no way we could purchase sufficient materials to support all the subjects in all the elementary grades, instead we decided to focus on those topics that would support the development of the skills and knowledge necessary for democratic citizenship. As the materials we most wanted to be able to offer our partner schools didn't seem to be in existence, we decided that we would have to create our own books! See the following webpage to read more about our Democratic Citizenship Curriculum.
Introducing New Teaching Skills
When we started our work with teachers we took many things for granted. Soon, however, we realized how big of a stretch we were asking from our teachers. For example, offering quality stories to read aloud to their students was worthless if the teachers didn't already have a basic skills set for reading to their students in an engaging way. And it turned out that learning how to hold a book open, read with engaging expression, pause to ask comprehension questions all while keeping on eye on the class was a scary proposition for some of the teachers in our program.
As we have moved forward, then, we have focused on developing materials and curriculum that consistently use the same teaching skills set. We have focused on teaching the basic teaching skills needed for Shared Reading, Guided Reading and Read Aloud. In this way, once teachers have attending an orientation workshop teachers can feel confident using any of our curricular units. The longer teachers work with us, the more skilled they become in these teaching areas and we can offer them more specific suggestions for how to make their lessons increasingly effective.
Many Ways to Support Teachers
When we teacher come to us open to new ideas and ways of teaching, we are dedicated to doing whatever it takes to help that teacher feel sucessful in becoming a more skilled in constructivist teaching methods. In addition to lending our materials, here is a list of ways that we support our teachers:
• Teaching workshops that introduce the basic skills of Shared Reading, Guided Reading and Read Aloud, all focused on developing critical thinking skills in students.
• Teachers who come to the center to check-out materials can ask Irma for suggestions about how best to use these materials to support the subject currently being taught.
• Teachers can plan their lessons and use all of the resource available, including Irma's assistance, to plan any lesson they need help with, whether or not it includes borrowing our materials.
• Irma visits the classroom of each teacher in the program to teach a demonstration lesson or to observe and provide feedback on a lesson the teacher would like support with.