Joint Effort

Natalie and Jara signed up together as members of the Australian Volunteer Team which recently travelled to Cambodia.

Jara joined in the Project Team, using his skills as a carpenter and builder to improve and maintain the school facilities, whilst Natalie, a teacher and currently completing her PhD, joined the Teacher Team.

As a young married couple, one of the key attractions for Jara and Natalie to join the SeeBeyondBorders program was that they were able to utilise their respective skills whilst working towards a common goal.

Natalie and Jara heard of the program through a colleague of Natalie’s who, along with his wife, volunteered with SeeBeyondBorders 12 months ago. He is a former school principal and hugely respected figure within the educational leadership community in Australia. Having returned from Cambodia, he commented that after many, many decades of teaching and travelling the world, his experience as part of SeeBeyondBorders visiting Teacher Team changed his mind about teaching and teacher professional learning.

Natalie offered the following reflections on her experience in the Teacher Workshop held during the first week:

We are now three days into the teacher workshops in Battambang. The Khmer teachers in this workshop have been part of the SeeBeyondBorders program for three years and some of them have many decades of classroom experience.

Other Australian teachers who have been part of this program previously cautioned that the Khmer teachers may be shy or nervous for the first day or two. Yet this has not been the case at all. The Khmer teachers have been open and comfortable from day one.

There is a sense of friendship and camaraderie amongst the Khmer teachers that is delightful to watch.

This workshop challenges them in new ways because we are focusing on their own personal mathematic skills, rather than the practice of teaching mathematics. We are teaching strategies for solving mathematical problems, with an emphasis on process over product. The strategies that we are teaching (draw a picture, use concrete materials, draw a table, guess and check, find a pattern) can be used in the classroom with their students, but they are equally applicable to the problems faced in everyday life. These teachers have already learnt so much through SeeBeyondBorders Teach the Teacher program, but the move into problem solving is a real leap forward. Their willingness to ‘have a go’ is impressive.

Even more impressive is the work of the SeeBeyondBorders facilitators. They co-facilitate the workshops, and run several afternoon sessions alone.

In truth, their knowledge, patience and skills are such that they could run the workshops without us.

I think we will have done a good job if we can eventually work ourselves out of having a role at all in the workshops.

Natalie’s thoughts on how the Teacher Workshops have benefited the Australian teachers?

It is no exaggeration to say that the workshops have presented just as many benefits, opportunities and challenges for the Australian teachers. Some of these include:

– Team teaching in groups of 2-3 Australian teachers and 1-2 Khmer facilitators. This is such a pleasure. We modified the workshop content on the go in an attempt to meet the participants’ needs, bounce ideas off each other and support and encourage each other throughout the day. I can’t help but think how much better my teaching would be if I could work in this environment all of the time.

– Stretching our brains to develop clear, succinct and complete explanations for concepts that we take for granted but are new ideas for the Khmer teachers (eg. presenting data in a table to solve a problem)

– Daily feedback, reflection and evaluation of what we are doing, with the hope of continuously improving.

– Helping to build the confidence of the Khmer facilitators that they could run the workshops without us, and thus hopefully making this program as sustainable into the future for as long as possible.

There is a large painted sign at the back of the classroom in which the workshops were being held that said ‘Every problem has a solution’.

At the start of the week, I thought this was a slightly cliché slogan, but working with the Khmer teachers, and SeeBeyondBorders facilitators, I actually starting to think that there just might be some truth to it.

Natalie Johnston-Anderson

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Author: SeeBeyondBorders

SeeBeyondBorders provides children in Cambodia with access to quality teaching and learning at school. Our approach is through sustainable development, helping communities help themselves.

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