“How can I identify students who do not understand my course well? How can I help them?”
“How and to what extent can history or geography become a practical course?”
“I teach chemistry in an area where there are no chemistry labs. How?”
The teachers in the first cohort of the Institut Supérieure Marcel Bédard (ISBM) had plenty of questions. Some were questions that vex teachers around the world, others were particular to the environment, and nearly all demonstrated a commitment to student learning and a desire to improve teaching practice. These questions were the intellectual backdrop for the institute’s inaugural week in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti, on Monday through Thursday. ISBM is sponsored by the Congregation of Holy Cross in Haiti in partnership with Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education.
The group will tackle the tough questions over the next two years as the teachers take part in the Institute’s innovative secondary teacher training program, but a large portion of the week’s activities were dedicated to orientation and community building. Teachers presented newly acquainted colleagues to the group and swapped stories about their mentors and classroom experiences. They also paired up for learning, with technology whizzes helping those who had never used a mouse to learn the basics so that all participants can take part in the Institute’s distance learning program.
Fatal Josue, an English teacher at Collège Notre-Dame du Perpetuel Secours in Cap-Haïtien, appreciated the interaction with his colleagues. “I can ask the other English teachers to share their ideas. We can share curriculum and exams,” Josue said. “Our goals should be similar.” Online learning communities, one pillar of the distance learning program, will facilitate that exchange.
The teachers also explored the purposes and goals of education, referencing guiding documents released in recent years by the Haitian Catholic church and the Haitian government. Both organizations emphasize students’ active involvement in their own learning, with the aim of developing the skills needed to participate fully in Haiti’s civic life and economy guided by social and moral values.
“ISMB aims to be a leader in Haitian education reform,” said Nirvah Jean Jacques, the program’s Academic Adviser and lead instructor in teaching methodology. “Both the Church and the state have articulated forward-thinking visions, which are very compatible. We will help teachers bring those visions to life in the classroom.”
To do so, the 32 participating teachers will learn new ways to plan lessons, organize learning activities, and assess student learning. As illustrated in their questions, though, many already have the necessary desire to facilitate effective learning among all students. Jean-Baptiste Gasner, a social science and Creole teacher at Collège Sainte-Eugène de Mazenod in Fort Liberté, summed it up simply. “I hope my students will surpass me in their achievement.”
-- Thanks to Dan Pier for this updated story.
-- Photo: The first cohort of participants in the ISMB.