Vivid images overcome the visitor to Lagonav! Roosters crow all night long. They are accompanied by the braying of donkeys and the barking of dogs. Night comes early and the darkness, undimmed by electric lights, is deep. Stars illuminate the night sky instead and the sight takes one’s breath away.
The road, allowing movement up and down the mountain, is more of a hiking path than a road and it is traversed often by “neighbors “as people travel. Often there are conversations with those the traveler passes along the way. People flow in and out of the homes of others and hospitality reigns as food and drink, meager though they might be, are shared.
Children play everywhere –in the yard, on the road, in their homes. They play alone or amuse one another often playing with stones, marbles, balls. It is at school that they gather to learn and it was at the school where the training team came to know them and their teachers.
At the top of the mountain, there is Mattenwa School. The school is a cluster of buildings on both sides of the road—stately, impressive and built to last. It was there that the training team met with 14 teachers and administrators from three different schools to share training on the topics of mathematics instruction in grades K-3 and teacher observation and supervision. Team members included: Sr. Sharon Slear, SSND and Provost of Notre Dame of MD University, Dr. Lisa Pallett, a leader in elementary math instruction at NDMU, Kathy Sipes, a staff member for the School of Education at NDMU, and Cindy Cottone, an occupational therapist from Florida and Sr. Sharon’s former student. The training team, joined by Mr. Brian Stevens, who works for Beyond Borders and who interpreted the instruction, spent the better part of a week sharing best practices in mathematics, practicing these new strategies, and critiquing teachers as they implemented the techniques with students in the classroom.
Dr. Pallett spearheaded the instruction and taught the teachers new strategies that not only focused on understanding number concepts, relationships, and theory but also promoted high levels of student engagement. The team provided many manipulative materials for teachers to use with students so that active learning replaced direct instruction in this highly effective teaching model. Teachers learned and practiced strategies with the trainers and then used those strategies in the classroom with students while the trainers observed. This model of instruct/practice/implement/ observe allowed teachers to gain confidence and competence with the new materials and strategies thus increasing the likelihood that these methods would become a daily practice.
In an informal assessment of the week at the end of the training, participants indicated that “all the strategies would be used in the classroom.” Teachers rated the training as an 11 on a 10 point scale with 1 indicating “not helpful” and 10 indicating “wonderful.” They were very pleased to be able to take materials back to their schools and stated that their greatest desire was for more materials for student use.
Future plans for the teacher training on Lagonav include a return visit by the team hopefully in the early summer. Future instruction will be a continuation of sharing best practices for math. Instruction will include strategies for higher-level content focused on geometry, fractions, and division. The team will provide additional materials. There will also be instruction on peer coaching and observation so that teachers learn to work as a collaborative team for the benefit of all their students.
Traveling to Lagonav is always a mutually beneficial experience. The goal of the training team is that teachers on the island learn strategies that will help their students learn and grow to become leaders in a community that is increasingly literate, independent and self- sustaining. The trainers always come away with a sense of their many blessings and how important it is to share knowledge, expertise, and materials for the benefit of children everywhere. The teachers of Lagonav, despite economic hardships, are a vivid reminder that all teachers have a responsibility to the children entrusted to them and that all teachers experience the joy of teaching -- a universal blessing that all teachers share.