There was a lot of excitement this morning during breakfast in our usual spot overlooking the stunning view. We were all keen to get started and felt we had been waiting for this moment since arriving.
Both the headteacher and teacher and librarian training were taking place in rural districts of Blantyre so we set off early on our roughly one hour commute.
It was clear to see as you leave the central hustle and bustle just how quickly standard of living and amenities deteriorate as you make your way in to more and more rural areas. It was a bumpy ride in the approach to Chigumukire with a rocky dirt track for the last half hour of our commute.
We were greeted by John the PEA (Primary Education Advisor) for the region and warmly welcomed by our group of teachers and librarians that Sharon and I would be working with today.
Later in the morning we were joined by Cryton, Chief Education Officer for Blantyre Rural. Cryton gave a riveting speech and spoke about the development of learning and teaching and the schools in this region. He explained to the participants that the region was now number 16 in the equivalent of local authority league tables.
Having previously been number 28 they were delighted at the progress that is happening, Cryton credited the MLOL charity for the role that they have played in contributing to this improvement.
During the speech he used a brilliant analogy of a bird flying around to gather objects for its nest, taking the best parts from all around them to build the best nest. He said we have to work like this in teaching and take the best parts from all around us to ensure we are provided the best education possible.
This made me reflect on ‘magpie moments’ in the POLLI document we would use during observations of learning in Glasgow. Moments in the lesson that you would steal and use in your own practice, as teachers we are always learning no matter how experienced or inexperienced, young or old, in Scotland or in Malawi.
We started the morning looking at the good lesson cycle and considered how we might plan effectively under the different headings. We had lots of active learning and participation from the audience.
A highlight for my morning was discussing the use of song and movement as a tool for learning - demonstrated by teaching the learners head, shoulders, knees and toes in Scots.
The comparison to my singing and their singing when they went on to teach us the song in Chichewa was night and day. I love how even a simply nursery rhyme can sound so special when our friends in Malawi sing it.
Participants were keen to be involved and enjoyed the celebrating with the MLOL classic… nice, nice, nice sooooo nice!
After this session we stopped for a break and participants were given a bottle of water and an apple. During this time Sharon and I took our opportunity to explore the locals primary school that the TDC (teacher development centre) was attached to.
My experience in Malawi last year was excellent but due to COVID the government had changed the school holidays to fit in more learning before summer so the children were on summer break later than normal meaning schools were closed to learners. It is not until you see a school with children you can understand the sheer complexity of the situations here.
This school had 1700 learners and only 32 teachers. So you can begin to imagine quite how large the classes are here… The children were on their break time and delighted to see us walking around the school so we had soon collected a small gathering who walked with us.
A special moment on the tour was seeing the Mary’s Meals Kitchen that was built in remembrance of a Glasgow City Council teacher, Kathleen O’Donnell, following a donation by her husband after she passed away. I continue to be blown away at the thoughtfulness and generosity shown by people to help others.
Returning to the training room the temperature was starting to heat up. Our next focus was looking at how teachers can use books and their library to support learning and explored familiar and unfamiliar texts to discuss the ideas and teaching points that could be made from using them.
Participants were excited to hear how we can use reading books to support our learning across the whole curriculum, not just to develop literacy. We used the giraffes can’t dance books that Gillian and I begged, borrowed and stole from colleagues in Glasgow so if you were one of them - we thank you.
They were put to very good use this afternoon and will continue to be useful throughout the week…
This took us to the final part of our training. Rather than having a break we had a ‘no hands up’ vote to whether we wanted a break or to charge on ahead. The decision was unanimous to charge on ahead and try to finish a bit earlier, I think this was due to the heat in the room. It’s also hard to imagine just how far staff have travelled to get here, the majority on foot with very little in their stomachs.
The final part of training for today focussed on reading leaders and how we can train and use older learners to support the reading/learning of younger learners or those who need more support than others. This involved some role play that love or hate is a staple for primary school teachers across the world so it didn’t take Sharon and myself long to get in to it.
It was lights, camera, action as at the mere mention of this suddenly made about 10 participants bring out their mobiles and start recording… so if you see a clip of a large Glaswegian male reading a story book in a Malawian classroom speaking to my colleague as if she was an infant on instagram or TikTok then please let me know.
We came outside before finishing for the day to play a game of motto mipiri motto (a game similar to our version of musical statues back home). If you are the last person caught moving you had to share what your favourite thing about your job was. Some of the responses were just perfect:
‘My favourite part of my job is teaching new learning to my learners’
‘My favourite part of my job is playing football with the children’
‘My favourite part of my job is seeing children learn and develop’
Again, answers that you would hear back in Glasgow too no doubt.
Then it was back inside to complete evaluations, closing prayer (I’m becoming better at my off the cuff prayers with everyday that passes) and a quick tidy up. On first look, the evaluations seem very positive with lovely feedback from participants.
I wonder if any previous MLOLs can take a guess at what some of the areas for improvement may be? I’ll give you a clue, it’s a fizzy orange drink…
We had an early dinner and it was a great chance to meet our colleagues who had been away doing leadership training all day.
On the drive back to Kabula our minds were racing with plans and ideas for sustainability, plans for going forward, supporting development further in Blantyre… but for now we need to rest and recharge so we are ready to do it all again tomorrow.