Paradigm Shift – Finding the ‘Why’ behind your teaching

Paradigm Shift – Finding the ‘Why’ behind your teaching

By Bridget Kennelly

Bridget Kennelly began her mentoring role at Immaculate Heart College, Taborio, Kiribati in January 2019. Bridget works closely with local teachers to provide professional development workshops to assist English curriculum development, lesson preparation and classroom teaching.

Here we are, at the beginning of the 2021 school year. I never would have expected to still be here after the completion of my 2-year placement, let alone still at the helm as Acting Principal of IHC. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown unexpected curveballs at many people all around the world, irrespective of geography. The possibility of leaving Kiribati continues to be very limited, with Kiribati being extremely fortunate to be keeping the pandemic at bay. This has come at an enormous cost, leaving the borders strictly closed for the immediate future, except for the painstakingly slow incoming repatriation of iKiribati citizens.

Two ways to look at things

I have the choice to look at being stranded here in two ways, negatively or positively. After being through such a tumultuous year, I have come to acutely recognise how important a positive mindset is. Reflecting and focusing on positives is something I resort to often when I am finding days difficult and keeping my mind and my days occupied is also a tactic which works for me (although I’ve had no trouble at all with that one!).

I reflect on the enormous privilege I have been blessed with, although the responsibility that goes along with it is often daunting. The local staff here are mainly unqualified, and many are very young and inexperienced. Again, this could be viewed as a disadvantage, however I prefer to see it as an incredible opportunity.

In the Palms philosophy, the length of time serving in a community is one of their greatest beliefs. I have seen this first-hand to be so true. Combined with another major belief of Palms, which is the mentoring aspect of the role being paramount to creating sustainable change. However, this needs to be consistent and regular.

Mentoring creates sustainable change

In 2019, the first year of my placement, after several months, I worked with the staff in weekly 2 hour workshops. Here, we explored issues such as the professional roles and responsibilities of a teacher – The ‘why’. ‘Why am I in this career?’; ‘Why is teaching sometimes referred to as a vocation rather than a job?’; ‘Why does this matter?’. In my opinion, finding and exploring the ‘why’ unpacks passion, purpose and dedication. Good teaching needs to come from the heart.

Then we launched into the ‘nitty gritty’ of unpacking the ‘what’ of teaching – curriculum outcomes, building on prior knowledge etc. Followed by the ‘how’ – lesson planning, catering for different learning styles and abilities, open-ended questions, higher-order thinking, active learning amongst many more pedagogies and concepts. Combined with input from the Australian Catholic University, the mindset of ‘being a teacher’ slowly started to evolve.

Accreditation review

All came together last year when, in August, we had our schools’ 3 yearly accreditation, along with all other Senior Secondary Schools in Kiribati. Three inspectors from the Ministry of Education came to the school for several days to audit the infrastructure, the standard of teaching, along with many other areas. I was nervous as I was not sure what exactly to expect, but having prepared these teachers for over a year, I was confident in their ability. It was an anxious day waiting for the inspectors, and of course being on ‘Kiribati time’, they arrived at 8pm and informed me they would start the following day!

A teacher using data to inform future teaching

In the office, the day before (quite a feat, given ‘Kiribati time’!!!), all staff had laid out their schemes of work, daily programmes, their curriculums and resources, examples of their assessments and data. School policies and procedures had been rewritten and were up-to-date, as were all Internal Assessment Plans (for Form 6 which must be approved by the Ministry). Teachers were able to be interviewed about what and how they taught and demonstrate their knowledge as a teacher.

Teacher programs, schemes of work and resources on display

For many teachers who, only a year before, lacked confidence, I was overwhelmed with pride in my colleagues who demonstrated dedication to their students and were able to be seen as professional practitioners in their field. They did not only produce the ‘what’, they knew the ‘why’. Not only in words, but from their heart. The Ministry of Education also reaffirmed the professional expectations I had been emphasising to the staff.

A change of thinking

There has been a momentous paradigm shift. A change of thinking is a change that is sustainable. To change thinking is a change that will remain for the rest of their lives as teachers and go on to effect colleagues as a ripple effect in the future. To me, this is the Palms philosophy in action.

Change is not always easy. Change takes time, change can be confronting. There were some staff who were soaking up new ways of trying things, new ways of planning, eager to get it exactly right, seeking reassurance and affirmation. Then there were those who were not as open as others, some staff who actively resisted and even acted out. Some staff realised teaching was not the right career for them… and that’s OK.

What will 2021 look like?

What lies ahead this year? Well, who knows… Covid-19 continues to leave uncertainties. I eagerly await the return of my Principal, who has been stranded in Fiji since March 2020. I look forward to working together with her to further bring sustainable change to the school until it is possible for me to return home.

So in the meantime, the new enrolment procedure is running smoothly from our office on the mainland, the selection of students through the Ministry of Education has been completed (this has been a 3-week process over Christmas / New Year), new project works (particularly the construction of a new toilet/amenities block for the boys dormitory) are underway. Teachers are being registered with the new National Teacher Registration Board after submitting the arduous requirements. Some new staff will be joining our journey in our IHC community. All we need now is the most important part… our students!

The great thing about positive change is that it is a continuous journey of reflection, growth, and enormous possibilities…

Happy International Day of Education 2021 to all educators around the world.
May you always keep the ‘why’ behind your teaching alive and strong!

Feature image: Policies and procedures, vision statement and school improvement plan on display

You can support the staff and students at Immaculate Heart College by making a regular or one-off donation to their project. This project provides professional development for the local teachers of the college.