The third week of the Transforming Education in Challenging Environments MOOC has been completed. During this week the participants engaged in discussions and activates focusing on how to design transformative teaching. The participants watched a video explaining how teachers can engage in research to be able to understand the real causes of problems the students face, better recognise the context of their students and devise solutions. The video featured the experience of Asmaa, a teacher at the NGO MAPs who encountered a problem with children coming late to school and conducted action research to identify causes and evaluate solutions. The MOOC participants shared similar experiences and how they tackled these issues using similar strategies as Asmaa’s or proposed alternative methods. For example, Hanan Shehab described a situation where children were used to teaching methods based on hierarchy, discipline and corporal punishment, but then they moved to a new country, they encountered different methods, which they had trouble accepting. Only by encouraging frank discussion were teachers and learners able to understand each other. Henan said:
Finally, after they told me the protocol they used to follow at their schools, I stopped teaching, we agreed on the minimum requirements to continue learning and then we re-started teaching with clear goals, objectives, and sets of values (as much as possible).
Claire Arnott, another participant, described disruptive behaviour that followed lunchtimes at her school. When she investigated the reasons, Claire found that children were unused to sitting at a dining table and were intimidated by the setting. Her solution was to instigate ‘social lunches’, where teacher and learners ate together in the classroom.
We would talk about our weekend, practice asking other questions, use table manners and clean the table after ourselves. As the year went on, the children began to bring these practices into the lunch hall. It slowly became a calmer environment. Less conflict ensued. Claire Arnott
These practices and other experiences which the described constitute ‘transformative education’. A teacher who engages in transformative education does not tell learners what to think, but is more likely to adapt learners’ experiences from outside the classroom to enhance their potential to understand the world in their own ways. As Janaina Hirata observed:
We have to leave behind the hierarchic relationships and work on more horizontal relations between students and teachers.
The participants practiced their understanding of different teaching approaches - hegemonic, accommodating, critical and transformative by evaluating methods used in different scenarios, including cases where children were late to school because of security checks of transportation challenges. Then participants discussed what they would have done to show transformative education practice. In the case of the security checks, Wassim Omar Sidani indicated that the teacher’s influence should extend far beyond the classroom, suggesting:
I’d talk with the people in charge, the local media, and send a letter to the minister of interior affairs and defence asking them to ease the security measures for cars transporting students.
Many teachers such as Rana El Hassan and Julie Green argued that children who are late because of transport problems should not be sanctioned, since they are already upset, so it would amount to a double punishment for something beyond their control. These caring responses show that the teachers on the course are committed to transformative education practices.
This week, the participants also engaged in a peer review activity. This activity gave the participants an opportunity to articulate their approaches, share and find out what others are doing, as well as give constructive feedback. Additionally, the participants linked back the idea of transformative teachers and teaching to the ecological systems theory which was introduced in week 2. The discussion led to highlighting the issue of teachers being asked to do too much. For example, at the beginning of week 3, one of our participants Sarah Hamdar asked about the bigger problems that limit teachers’ ability to bring about improvement. This discussion linked to the focus of the end of the week. Where the participants discussed support mechanisms for teachers. Participants suggested sources of support and noted the challenges of engaging in transformative education in environments where a hegemonic approach is the norm. Collaboration - particularly sharing resources, techniques and experiences - and building a strong network could help to support teachers.