Ideas for Selection, Consultation and Oversight
Introduction: Visiting a school is a personal experience, but if you also want your visit to be a part of what TEAA is doing to help with secondary education in East Africa, please consider the material that follows, which draws on our experience in school visits for selection, consultation and oversight.
Which Schools: This is up to you, of course, and most of us have been keen to visit schools where we once taught. But do check in with the chair of the TEAA steering committee (Brooks Goddard: firstname.lastname@example.org) to see if there are other places where we can use your help. You may also get some valuable background and contact information in this way. Starting with a school that we know has dynamic and open leadership can give you a helpful benchmark of things to look for in other schools.
Contact: Try to get an email address and cell phone number of the principal, so you can let them know you're interested in coming. The TEAA chair maintains a list of the ones we know and should be given any new contact information you get. All this may apply to other staff members and/or the school office.
When to Go: For a full visit, find out when school is in session and not busy with exams. School vacations do not always follow a simple pattern and may vary among schools, so inquiring into the dates of the particular school you wish to visit is important.
Expectations: We have visited many schools and support only a fraction of them, so it's important to be clear from the outset that a visit does not necessarily lead to TEAA support. You can of course make your own contribution (see Money Transfer, below) and/or say that you plan to tell others what you have seen. If you feel strongly that a school deserves TEAA support, you can apply to the Grants Committee, headed by Pat Gill email@example.com). A good rule of thumb is to keep donee expectations low but at the same time, be thinking about project possibilities. Our grants generally go for academic items like books, lab equipment and computers, as determined in consultation with the schools. The amounts are modest, but are enough to make a difference.
Money Transfer: We use banks to transfer money. For supporting a school, we strongly discourage handing over cash, even to trusted individuals. They understand this policy, and it sets a good example.
Gifts: A good gift to a school during a visit is The Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, an atlas, or extra textbooks for sharing, all to go into the library if they have one. Consult the TEAA chair or the school for specifics. Many towns and cities have bookstores. Buying locally helps you align with the national curriculum while supporting the economy in a small way. This advice is not meant to discourage your creativity with other gifts.
Head of School: Good heads/principals are pleased to get some recognition for their accomplishments and are willing to listen to suggestions for improvement. Visits can accomplish that much in any case, and can accomplish much more, as noted in elsewhere in these notes. One thing to notice is whether the head can articulate what has been achieved on her/his watch and communicate a clear vision of what needs to happen in the coming few years.
Teachers, Students: You may be offered group discussion sessions with all or some of the faculty and/or students. If not, you might ask, since these can be interesting and even enlightening for all parties. Discussions with one or a small number of teachers in your own discipline can be informative and productive in a more specific way.
Representative: Where possible, meet our representative. We have one for each major project - a respected local resident, whom we know well and who has substantial knowledge of and interest in the particular school.
Classes: If you want to watch a class in session, ask. We have found schools and teachers invariably willing to let us do this and often keen to get our reactions. Some of us have taught too, both ordinary classes and teacher-training sessions. It is best to arrange this in advance, but it may work out after arrival. It's a good idea to watch before doing. In addition, we have expert teacher trainers with recent relevant experience. The TEAA chair maintains contact information.
Campus Tours: These can be surprisingly useful. Be suportive but keep your eyes and ears open and your brain churning. Here are some specific things you can find out that can help decide whether to assist and in what ways.
Science Labs: You can see what they have and ask about how it relates to the curriculum. If you've taught a science, you can check whether all the bits are there to do your favorite experiment. Often there is equipment for a demo but not enough for all the students to get hands-on labwork, even in groups. Check storage facilities to see the amount and organization of the equipment and supplies. Inaccessibility or excessive dust buildup during the term can be indicators of under-utilization. On the positive side, a knowledgeable articulate science teacher can be impressive.
Computer Rooms: Like it or not, security is an issue, here as elsewhere in the world. Computer rooms need gates and substantial locks, especially on doors, but windows also need attention. Ask about the availability of local servicing; a computer on the floor is not educating anyone. The number of computers devoted to student use may be anywhere from zero on up, and is typically too small. Try to find out what they do with those they have - by asking or preferably by watching a class or coaching session. Networking and power-supply issues may be worth discussing.
Libraries: Regrettably, not all schools have them. Some make book-borrowing possible in the staff room. Libraries need security too, though less of it than a computer room, and a borrowing system as well. You'll probably see multiple copies of current textbooks, since students typically share. There may be good reference books on subject matter as well as dictionaries and atlases. Quality is as important as quantity; outdated textbooks and irrelevant donated items need to be cleared out.
Other Campus Locations: Surprisingly one can learn things from kitchens, dormitories, school farms, landscape and even the entertainment that students sometimes provide. The substance and style of these things can tell you much about the ingenuity of the leadership in dealing with problems, raising a bit of cash (through crops and husbandry), getting or keeping students in touch with the soil, instilling pride and creating a valued environment.