Monday, July 31, 2017

Reflections from a Refugee Camp - Part A

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of emotion and energy. I arrived in Lebanon earlier this month as a volunteer with Jusoor's Summer Education Program. Jusoor Syria is a non-profit dedicated to empowering Syrian youth through education and entrepreneurship.

While the ongoing conflict in Syria has displaced millions of Syrians to countries all around the world, Lebanon is home to over one million Syrian refugees, the highest per capita of any nation. Jusoor has several programs within Lebanon, all designed to provide much needed educational opportunities to displaced Syrian families.

Jarahieh camp in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
I chose to volunteer with Jusoor because I was impressed by the organization's overall focus on sustainability. There are currently three Jusoor schools in Lebanon, one in Beirut and two in the Bekaa Valley.  These schools help prepare Syrian students, many of whom have had their education interrupted, for Lebanese schools. The language of instruction in most Lebanese schools is English or French, so the Jusoor schools also help by developing students' English language skills.

As an English Language (EL) teacher, many of the students in my classes during the regular school year are first or second generation immigrants, including some who have been displaced by conflict, some who have endured the hardships of refugee camps and others who have had their own educational experiences interrupted.

Jusoor volunteer training session
My volunteer work with Jusoor began during our initial orientation. During that time, I led a training session on teaching with English as a foreign language for the other Jusoor volunteers who hailed from countries around the world including the US, the UK, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, Colombia, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Together we talked about the importance of creating safe learning environments, encouraging students to take risks with language development, and supporting language input across multiple modalities.

Summer classes began this past week and to say it has been a humbling experience would be an understatement. I was placed at the Jarahieh school, on the edge of a refugee camp. On any given day, I have more than thirty students in my class, many of whom have never been to school before. We spend each day doing peacebuilding work, science experiments and arts and crafts projects. We practice sharing and taking turns and writing our names.

Students experimenting with liquids and solids
I am in awe of the resilience of these students. Their excitement for learning makes it easy to forget that many have experienced far more in the last few years than any child should have to experience. My heart breaks for each of the horrors of war and displacement these children have had to endure, and I am reminded everyday of the value and importance of the work we are doing.

I am honored to be volunteering with Jusoor, and I am excited to continuing learning and growing alongside my students for the next two weeks. The work Jusoor does on a daily basis is improving the lives of thousands of Syrian youth and their families. The Jusoor staff here in Lebanon impress me every day with their commitment to ensuring that this generation of Syrians will not be forgotten.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Lessons Learned from #ASCDTIG

As I reflect on the past year, I am so immensely grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of the first-ever cohort of ASCD Teacher Impact Grantees. To read more about my experiences with ASCD TIG, take a look at the grant press release and my experiences inside the Department of Education and at the ASCD Empower 2017 Conference. There are many lessons I have learned through this process, most notably what it takes to be a leader, the far-reaching benefits of collaboration and the multiplying effects of empowering teachers.

Through the implementation of this grant it became clear that leadership is about more than just a position. Receiving the ASCD Teacher Impact Grant did not change my position in the school building, but it did provide me with opportunities to learn about leadership as a teacher. The challenges of leading as a teacher became clear even before the grant work got off the ground. Navigating school policies and procedures and then communicating those policies to participating teachers helped me to understand the value of clear communication. I learned how to better communicate my goals and structure a narrative that earns the support of both teachers and administrators. Negotiating these challenges helped me to better appreciate the rewards. For me, those rewards come in the form of heartfelt gratitude from teachers who truly felt more supported in doing their jobs.

Being part of ASCD TIG has opened many doors to collaboration, both locally and nationally. Locally, the funds provided through ASCD TIG have allowed participating teachers to attend conferences together, spend time reflecting on their co-teaching partnerships and participate in peer observations. The feedback I received from teachers demonstrate the need for teacher collaboration time. Being able to collaborate directly with other teachers gave grant participants an opportunity to see new ideas and strategies in action and then take those strategies right back to their own classrooms. Nationally, I have been able to connect and collaborate with colleagues all across the country. To say that I have been inspired by their projects and efforts in education would be an understatement.

Finally, experiences with this grant have had a multiplying effect on teacher empowerment. With the support from ASCD and collaboration with administrators and colleagues, I have felt empowered in my role as a teacher. I know that ASCD TIG projects are making a difference in schools around our nation. In our school, ASCD TIG has demonstrated the value of teacher collaboration. Our project started with a single idea - an idea to create more inclusive classrooms and enhance the learning environment for all student by fully supporting teachers. The teachers who participated in this project were able to take ideas back into their own classroom, enhancing the educational experiences of hundreds of students. Teacher-led initiatives are empowering because they can and do have a direct effect on student learning.

If you are interested in learning more about the ASCD Teacher Impact Grants or how you can learn more about advancing professional learning in your own education community, check out http://www.ascd.org/programs/teacher-impact-grants.aspx.