Shared passion uniting teachers to make a difference across the globe

After starting out as a successful management consultant in the healthcare sector, Diana Webster found herself looking for more.

Two-and-a-half years into her new career – teaching geography and social sciences at Sydney’s Abbotsleigh school for girls – and Diana found her passion.

“With teaching, by the end of every day you’ve had some kind of moment that matters, whether with a student, or a colleague, or both,” she says.

It was this need to pursue a sense of connection and making an impact that inspired Diana to apply for an NGS Super Scholarship Award. Diana, an NGS member, received an email calling for applications in mid 2018. Ordinarily, she may not have felt she had a chance. However, the fact that two of her colleagues were past Scholarship recipients spurred her to give it a go. Although her colleagues’ Scholarships related to more research-oriented educational programs, the Awards dedicated to supporting classroom teaching and pastoral care were exactly what Diana had been looking for.

“I’d had some time to reflect during the first big summer break I had as a teacher,” says Diana. “I decided that I wanted to use my holiday time differently, relaxing of course, but also spending some time giving back.”

A time to give back

After some research, she came across Limited Resources Teacher Training (LRTT) a global education social enterprise set up by teachers, for teachers.

“The LRTT model is based on research showing that teaching quality is the most important factor influencing learning, more so than computers or new textbooks or smaller classes,” Diana explains. “It’s all about getting every child in every classroom really learning, and empowering teachers to provide quality education.”

“The idea is that teachers from Australia, New Zealand the UK and the USA go to countries with limited resources and work alongside local teachers to share knowledge and exchange skills,” explains Diana.

Sustainability the key

The LRTT model was particularly attractive because it is based around sustainability.

“This is something we teach a lot about in geography – what is sustainable, what are good models for taking skills offshore and the downsides if you don’t build these sustainable models. The LRTT program is about working alongside others to upskill them.”

Diana had already applied for the LRTT program in Uganda when the NGS Scholarship Awards invitation arrived in her inbox. The Scholarship represented the perfect opportunity to secure her dream of spending the better part of January 2019 working alongside colleagues from a dramatically different world.

Much to Diana’s elation, she was announced as a Scholarship Awards winner in October last year and, in January 2019, that dream became reality.

“The LRTT program is self-funded, so the NGS Scholarship Award covered the bulk of my expenses including the flights and accommodation fee. Essentially, tour fees go toward funding the whole conference for all the local teachers. It was a great feeling to know that our financial contribution is what makes it all possible.”

Common bonds the basis for sharing skills

It was not until she arrived at the airport at Entebbe that Diana met the other 13 teachers from Australia and New Zealand who, along with two team leaders made up the core group of 15 participants in the Ugandan program.

“Despite not knowing each other and the many differences in where and what we taught, we quickly realised we had a strong common bond in our passion for teaching,” says Diana.

After a night in Entebbe, the teachers, in the friendly care of Moses, their driver for the program’s duration, set off on the nine-hour bus trip to Uganda’s south west, stopping off briefly to visit the equator (a definite highlight for a geography teacher!). The group’s destination was the Kanungu District, home to the impenetrable tropical Bwindi forest which directly abuts the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

And so began the next three weeks of intensive teaching, learning, sharing, exploring and, most of all, fun and laughter – two ingredients that Diana’s recent experience has taught her are just as useful in a senior school classroom as in the primary school setting.

“At first I had some self-doubts about whether I had anything valuable to share with these very experienced teachers in such a different culture,” says Diana. “But I soon realised how much we had in common despite the differences in our context and physical surroundings – our goals as teachers were so similar and we all had useful skills and experiences to share.”

The model for the conference was to set up six sessions on topics based on local needs and feedback. Each session was run by two LRTT teachers, with 15 local teachers participating.

“We were running concurrent sessions over six days on topics ranging from growth mindset and mood, to behaviour management, to lesson planning and facilitated some really good sessions on learning aids,” says Diana. “The teachers shared a lot about using the natural environment as learning aids, whether it was rocks for counting or learning about complex physics concepts by using sticks and weights and water in a plastic bottle.”

Bringing skills back home

Now back in her familiar Australian classroom, Diana is equally as conscious of her own new skills and perspectives as those she and her group shared with their Ugandan colleagues.

“I’m trying to take what I’ve learned and share it around, incorporating some of the information about Kanungu and surrounding villages in my teaching of geography,” she explains. “That includes using it as an example of spatial inequality, the inequality of resources and services depending on the area or location you’re in – and the fact that people in poverty will remain that way until various resources and services are introduced.”

Looking ahead, Diana would absolutely take the opportunity to do more work with LRTT.

“It is my hope that if we can continue encouraging and supporting programs like LRTT’s, with help from groups like NGS, over time, even as individuals we can make a positive difference.”

About the NGS Super Scholarship Awards

NGS Super is offering members the chance to win one of six $5000 scholarships to help their dreams take flight through a professional development course, a project or initiative – and there’s no geographic barriers. This opportunity can take you anywhere.

If you currently work in the independent education sector and have a burning desire to enhance your professional development while making a tangible contribution to improving the quality of education and the sector at large, then this scholarship could be your opportunity to soar.

Entries open 1 July 2019 and close 2 September 2019.

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