The one real goal of education is to leave a person asking questions.
Within five minutes of meeting me, no-one can have any doubt that I am passionate about education. I will talk about everything educational from Vygotsky’s zones of proximal development to the best way to make salt dough to the time I was surprised by a tarantula on my teacher’s desk. In fact, it can be hard to shut me up sometimes! But at HOOP I found something wonderful: the opportunity to share this passion with our volunteer teachers, and see them discover for themselves what it means to teach – which is a far more complex and enriching experience than many even expect.
Teacher training has formed the bulk of my work with HOOP since the beginning of the school year in March. From the initial training when volunteers first arrive to the ongoing support that allows them to develop into teachers, my main goal has been to give our teachers what they need so that they can offer the children what they deserve. And I have loved going through that process each time a volunteer arrives – seeing the transformation from enthusiastic but daunted new arrival to confident, caring and dedicated teacher. I’ve taken them through what it means to have and share a growth mindset, how to manage behaviour by focusing on the positive and how to plan lessons full of active learning. Every time, though, I emphasise how much is learnt through practice – there’s no better way to learn how to get and hold the attention of twenty 8-year-olds than trying, failing and honing your technique! The same applies for me – each time I have accompanied a teacher through their time at HOOP, I have seen teaching through new eyes and understood new ways to help others develop and overcome obstacles. I too have failed at times! But with reflection, dialogue, trying again – everything I ask the teachers to do – I feel I have grown and developed my abilities as a leader during my time here at HOOP.
What has also amazed me with each arrival is how every teacher has their own distinct style that shapes their relationship with their children and the lessons they teach. Some are confident breaking into song, while others use perfectly-timed sardonic one liners to get students on board. Some want to introduce their kids to Cubism, others to architecture. I am confident that HOOP’s new curriculum, the design and implementation of which was my biggest project during my time at HOOP, has really allowed for teachers to develop in this way. When I started on the curriculum all the way back in January, I wanted to give HOOP’s teachers and students something that was rigorous – had high expectations – but also roomy, giving teachers space to be creative and find inventive ways to engage their students. This year we have ditched the text book altogether and embraced topic-based learning. This made general classroom checks fun and fascinating for me, seeing how each teacher had adapted a common topic for their class. During environment week, for example, I squealed with glee alongside our little Butterflies as they created and experimented with their own watermill, then was blown away by the inventive solutions that our Manatees came up with to Peru’s various environmental problems – all in English, of course!
Naturally, it has not always been an easy transition from a more traditional teaching style to a more innovative one, as it demands more of our teachers and more of those supporting them. It is also a different way of teaching and learning for our children and their parents to get used to. However, this very difference is what I believe HOOP students need and want – new and exciting ways to learn. And to learn not only English, but a whole host of skills that their everyday school experiences don’t allow them to develop fully, like collaboration and critical thinking. Most importantly, I wanted the school to spread a passion for learning.
The wonderful thing about HOOP is that we can do that not only with the children but with their families. As a teacher, you always have the privilege of sharing with the family, even for a little while, the role of bringing up a child. At HOOP, where many families have a longstanding connection with the organisation, that connection is even closer and HOOP’s little school really is a community school. It was amazing to be able to get to know the parents of our children as well as the students themselves, to share with them their children’s achievements and anecdotes from class, and see too how the mums shared a desire to learn. It was clear to me that the school was that – a whole community of parents, children, teenagers, teachers, and staff members piling through the school doors each day, filling the patio with play and chatter and laughter and work, coming together every afternoon to have a go at making things better, one step at a time.
As I left, one mum told me that her boy now bugs his parents at home asking, “how do you say that in English?”. A seemingly small thing like that in fact makes it all worthwhile. These questions, this curiosity about the world, are what I hope I have helped to give the 100+ children I have known and loved at HOOP. There are also many questions I have asked myself, and had teachers ask me: “How can we make sure they’re learning?”, “How can I do this in just 3 months?”, “How do we know we are making a difference?”. They are not easy questions to answer, but every time I have piled out the school again at the end of the afternoon, chatting with teachers, colleagues, students or mums, or maybe just contemplating Misti’s quiet stoicism one more time, I know that we are trying to answer them by giving our all to every lesson, to every child and to every family. I feel honoured and humbled to have been a part of HOOP and its incredible community. The question now is…“when can I come back?”.