Education Beyond Borders

Reflections 2010

Anita Hayhoe (Primary teacher in Toronto, ON):

The old Kikuyu elder leaned forward on his stick toward us. “When the British controlled this valley, we couldn’t send our children to school. They had to work in the fields to pick pyrethrum on the plantations. For a long time after independence, there was only one school in this valley, and many children never went to school. Now, in these times, we sit here together as equals, black and white. There are many schools in the valley and when we don’t send our children to school, the authorities come to our houses to find out why, and to compel us to send them. Life is better now. God has indeed done a good thing.”

I sat there, on a plastic chair in the sunshine, in front of a snug house surrounded by lush fields of cabbages, kale and maize, backed by a small forest and listened. I had driven, with 4 others from the Education Beyond Borders team, on a rutted track across the dusty, dry floor of the great Rift Valley, and up the Eburu Mountains on the other side to reach this beautiful place, to be there with these people on a Saturday morning in August. So I sat there and listened.

And I thought, ‘Yes, this is why I came here, not just to this valley this morning, but to Kenya, and why I relate so strongly to EBB’s vision of teachers connecting with teachers.’ Education is the single biggest factor in improving the standard of living of a community. It empowers people, it gives them independence and more options for their future. It results in healthier mothers and children and plays a vital role in combating crises such as environmental degradation and HIV/AIDS. As a Canadian teacher from Toronto, I don’t have the answers to Kenya’s poverty, environmental, educational and health care challenges.

But by working side by side with local teachers, training and empowering them to train others, I am part of something that will continue to address those challenges. This summer the EBB team in Naivasha trained 15 facilitators to conduct a 5 day workshop on collaborative learning, differentiated instruction, inquiry learning and project-based instruction. These are research driven philosophies of teaching that have large impacts on student engagement, retention and ultimately student success. They are incredibly flexible and adaptable, so that they can be utilized in a large classroom with very little resources and no electricity. The teacher-facilitators have experience using them in their classrooms, adapting them to best suit local contexts and cultures. Those 15 teacher-facilitators then trained over 120 teachers from approximately 60 local schools. Each of those teachers teach a class of 60 students on average. That’s over 8000 students who will be impacted in Naivasha district this fall when school starts up again!And that doesn’t take into account the fact the other teachers in the school who see the modeling of different teaching methodologies and the positive impact on student achievement, and who begin to experiment with the methodologies in their classes.

I didn’t come to Kenya to offer my expertise (I have none), or to advise teachers on best practices (I don’t know enough about teaching in Kenya to even start). I came to listen, to learn, to share, to observe, to encourage and to empower a group of inspiring individuals who are fighting on the front lines of a battle for a better life for their communities. I left humbled, hopeful and challenged. And I left convinced that what we do, as teachers, every day in our classrooms, where ever we are in the world, makes a difference.


Kimberly Brown (Primary teacher in Regina, SK):

I felt fortunate to be part of a hard working, dedicated and prepared group of educators. Our Naivasha team had decided to prepare the facilitator packages prior to departing Canada and if everything would have worked out the facilitators would have had them prior to the beginning of the workshops. In theory this was a perfect idea and would have given them time to prepare for the workshops along with providing a Kenyan perspective on the material. Unfortunately the material did not get to the facilitators before the workshops. We're hopeful that some of the Kenyan facilitators will work on the workshop materials for next year and we will be able to distribute them prior to facilitator week.

I enjoyed the experience of traveling in matatus and taxis along with the various drivers we had. Each driver has stories and information to share with us about themselves, their families and Kenya. Our accommodation at Utumishi Boys’ Academy was great and the food was amazing. Thankfully I only gained 2 pounds which Titus, our cook, found amusing even though he was hoping for more!

From discussions with the Kenyan teachers and other Canadian teachers the EBB model from this summer seems to be the most popular and successful. I’m glad we had the week to visit schools and prepare for the facilitator workshops. The week gave us time to be in Kenya and experience a small part of the Kenyan way of life. By no means did we become experts but it gave us a small lens to look through. I would definitely enjoy more time in schools particularly in classrooms working with teachers.

I hope to develop better relationships with the teachers I met so that we could develop opportunities for teachers to participate in classes in their schools. Week two was an incredible learning curve. We had planned our facilitator week during week one but we had also allowed for flexibility to meet the needs of both ourselves and the Kenyans as the week proceeded.

I believe that because our information packages were prepared ahead of time we had sufficient resources to work with the teachers but also valuable resources for them to use after we left. We were very fortunate to stay at Utumishi with the Kenyan facilitators because we developed personal relationships with the teachers during meals and in the evenings. I think it would be difficult to do this during the day because some of our best conversations were at breakfast discussing the plans for the day or in the evening reflecting on the day. We were also able to get to know each other over a games night, a movie and our “Canadian” supper which strengthened our ability to work together during week three.

I left Kenya with a renewed dedication to teaching and providing opportunities for my students to learn. I find that I’m thinking more about how my classroom can be student centered and directed. My students come from varied backgrounds bringing a lot of difficult experiences and baggage with them. In a student centered classroom I’m better equipped to deal with their individual needs while at the same time developing a collaborative learning atmosphere. As I work throughout the school year I hope to share my experiences with my Kenyan colleagues and learn about any changes they are making in their teaching practice.


Moses Muthoki (Kenyan secondary teacher):

There was a week-long flurry of activities at Utumishi Boys’ Academy, Gilgil when over 140 educators engaged in discussions around four teaching learner-centred methodologies in the third round of EBB workshops in Naivasha district – Kenya. The group guided by the theme ‘Focus on Learning, not on Teaching’ began by developing three outcomes around which the assembly would articulate issues in the interest of teacher professional growth.

It emerged that the role of the teacher need be that of the facilitator. To listen more and talk less, to have learners explore and discover, to bring them to be more engaged through variety of activities and that the teacher is not after all the know-it-all.


EBB has created the first opportunity in Naivasha district if not the entire country for both primary and secondary school teachers to come together to foster a professional relationship that is mutually involving and interdependent thus:

  • Closing the divide between them.
  • Creating opportunities for them to discuss challenges of learners’ transition from primary to secondary level.
  • Encouraging teachers to make a follow up on their learners from primary to secondary level.
  • Creating opportunity for demystifying exclusive teaching in either primary or secondary schools.
  • Creating a forum for teachers to achieve professional growth and development with the formation of Professional Learning Clusters (PLCs).

A review on the progress achieved by PLCs formed earlier in 2009 indicated that there was continuity of teacher networks forged in previous workshops. It is notable that the PLCs form the only of a kind teacher professional outfit away from the union bodies.

Overall, the sessions were as interesting as they were preoccupying and it was fascinating to note two or three teachers remain in their seats to clarify that last point when everyone else went out at the end of a session.


Silvia Knittel (Secondary teacher in Langley, BC):

With about ten cameras at their disposal, the teachers captured moments of the progress as the week wore on and when the vote of thanks came during the final gathering, it was obvious that new friendships had been built and closer networks established. The PLCs definitely have work cut out for them to ensure that these teachers stick together to achieve collective growth and enhanced productivity in their work.

In July, 2010, I returned to Laikipia in Kenya with Education Beyond Borders.  I went with a team of eight teachers, including Betty Kiddell from Manitoba, Alison Stuart, Cheryl Wright and Tracy Ray from Alberta and  Ji Ai Choi , Bill Upward and Katherine Kan (and myself) from B.C.

Our goal was to collaborate with 13 Kenyan facilitators, with whom we had worked the previous year, to produce an education conference for 60 Kenyan primary and secondary teachers.  We focused on presenting four teaching methodologies: Learning Styles, Inquiry, Collaboration and Project Planning.  In addition, we began and ended each day with Reflective teaching practices.

The previous summer the Canadian team had organized the entire conference and taught all the sessions. This year our goal was to encourage our Kenyan colleagues to take on as much of a leadership role as possible.  Our hope was that the Kenyan teachers would teach most of the sessions, while the Canadians took on a supporting role.  After a week of planning the sessions together with the Canadian teachers, the Kenyans chose to facilitate the Learning Styles, Collaboration and Reflection sessions and asked us to facilitate Inquiry and Project Planning.  They felt that the Kenyan teachers who were coming to the conference would be disappointed if the Canadians weren’t featured in some way.

I was very proud of the work that was accomplished by both the Canadian and Kenyan leaders.  The Canadian team did an incredible job of stepping back and encouraging our Kenyan colleagues to lead the sessions and they did a brilliant job of presenting the practical applications of the methodologies to their colleagues.  They were so successful, that 80% of the participants filled out applications to be facilitators in the summer of 2011.

I believe that Education Beyond Borders does valuable work in Kenya.  One of the Kenyan facilitators said that the experience of building methodology sessions and organizing the conference made him feel valued as an educator for the first time in his career.  I know that every time I come back from one of these conferences, I’m inspired by the new ideas and valuable skills I have learned from both my Kenyan and Canadian colleagues.  I strongly encourage teachers in Canada to join EBB and experience one of the most rewarding professional development opportunities of your career. I can’t think of a more valuable way to experience personal and professional growth as an educator and as a person.


Judy McBride (Retired teacher in Montréal, QC):

Because this was my first opportunity to teach overseas, I really had only a vague idea of what to expect in terms of the day-to-day and overall experience. I sent off my application and waited, hopefully. To travel and teach, and to have an opportunity to give back to my profession had long been my dream… I was accepted!

Communication, which began months before we left for Kenya, was, I think, key to the development of the team, which in turn was essential to the success of the three-week session. I cannot think of another time in my career when a group of strangers came together with varied backgrounds, strong personalities, hyped up determination, and a short timeline, and made it work. It worked. Communication was ongoing, pretty much open throughout, and reflected an essential characteristic of our project leader.

The week of facilitator training was exhilarating and intensely professional. Days were long as ideas flowed freely. There were almost too many of these to act upon in the time available. Time, as is ever the case in this profession, was an ongoing issue. In order to plan effectively it was necessary to sift through, read and retain, discuss and critique a tremendous amount of information. Resources were limited as well, and everyone learned to do more with less, while developing meaningful and interesting opportunities to learn. Modeling is a powerful instructional technique, and in this case the Kenyan facilitators could easily see how to develop their sessions, and quickly began to do so. At the same time, members of the Canadian team were able to shift to the role of resource, providing support and feedback.
What evolved during this week was a community of teachers who undoubtedly value teaching, the learning of their students, and their own learning as well. It was clear, at times, that expectations, conceptualizations (and, yes, personalities) came under scrutiny – of our own self-reflective eyes, and of those of the group. Understandings changed as we listened to, and heard each other, thus prompting and promoting the emergence of a single team of facilitators where no one was evaluative, and no one was alone in their learning.
Week three, in spite of the efforts of a conscientious team to plan for every eventuality, left some with feelings of bewilderment, yet certainty that something great was about to begin. Up to 80 teachers were expected to arrive. They did. And so did about forty more! Everyone understood in one crystallised moment the purpose of our endeavour. Mary asked us, at our morning reflection, to recall our ‘sweetest dream’ as a teacher. We wrote. Shortly, some of us volunteered to share. We listened and understood that we share a dream of being the best we can be to the students in our care, and that our dreams had brought us together.
The most important issue or idea, to me, and, I believe to the sustainability of this project, may be found in comment made by John Mwauraw at the final, hurried debrief on the last Friday afternoon. After anyone who wanted to had made a comment, John stood and very graciously thanked his Canadian colleagues for volunteering their time, ideas and resources. He suggested that it was time, and that there was a way that the Kenyan teachers might own the project, that they could be researching ideas about curriculum and instruction, that they could start in March in preparation for next July. Yes!

It is tempting to romanticize an experience like this. I hope (again) that I have not, but in trying not to, it has been hard to find just the right word…to carry what I understand of my experience.  The world I experienced in Kenya this summer is real, the needs of the schools and the people who teach and learn there are great.


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