Differentiation Workshop to Local Ethiopian Teachers

I am very fortunate that my international school has such a strong and positive relationship with the local community. One of the rewarding opportunities I had was last weekend’s professional development workshops we gave the local Mekdela school teachers.

The differences between the schools are obvious (and unfortunate). One is a wealthy international school serving sons and daughters of expat business people, diplomats, etc. while the other is a public Ethiopian “government” school. From teacher salaries to classroom resources, the similarities are few and far in between. This being said, as expatriates living and working in the developing world, it is (what I see as) our moral obligation to share our knowledge and skills with our local teacher counterparts in whatever ways we can think of, and so these teacher workshops were a wonderful addition to my weekend.

The professional development day included over 80 teacher participants from the Mekdela school. There were about 15 workshops offered by my school’s teachers and teaching assistants. Each workshop was planned to take two hours. Expatriates who did not speak Amharic were provided with one of our school’s TAs, who served as a mediator and translator to the participants. We were to have two such workshops throughout the day.

I chose to share my knowledge of differentiation theory and practice with the local teachers. After volunteering to share my knowledge at the event, I was suddenly struck with the simple and obvious question- How do you differentiate instruction when you are a traveling (“a-la-carte”) teacher who have little to no resources and 40-60 students in a classroom??? I started by taking a deep breath!

After a short visit to classrooms at the local school, several hours of presentation planning, and middle of the night consultation with colleagues, I realized it had to be an interactive presentation (to keep the audience engaged, to build on their knowledge, skills, interests, and needs), and to include both theory AND practice sections. And so my presentation was born:

Although I was concerned about the time element, I felt that all the background information and theory, as well as the interactive nature of the presentation, were necessary. And I must say that the workshop went quite well, aside for the fact that I did not take into consideration the delay in participants’ arrival as well as the time it takes to translate everything I was saying… What I assumed would be two full hours, were actually about 70 minutes of material…

In the first presentation teachers had little time to work on concrete and authentic strategies for their classes, which was quite disappointing to me. So I was happy that I had the time to create a packet of handouts for each participant, which included both theory and practical advice for a variety of subjects. Those, I was hoping, would allow them to reflect and experiment in their own time. Not ideal…

The second workshop went better. I introduced slides, and let Ato Bereket, my fantastic and overly qualified translator, to take it from there and explain concepts and ideas directly in Amharic. This allowed us to go through the material faster without compromising the discussion and content.

The Classroom

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