Christine Beard | GLP Rwanda

Christine Beard, a Deputy Head at Hazlehead Primary in Aberdeen, spent four weeks living and working in Rwamagana in the Eastern Province of Rwanda during the summer of 2014.  Since her placement, Christine has worked with colleagues at school and across Aberdeen City to provide interesting learning opportunities that link Aberdeen to Rwanda.

Being American, I am culturally different, so I think I naturally tried to engage my pupils in Global Citizenship before the trip to Rwanda.  However, I really wanted to do something for me as I needed an injection of something to stop me from feeling like that teacher who just turns up and gets through the day; I was starting to get a little bored.  Global Learning Partnerships offered the perfect blend of personal opportunity as well as professional development.

“As a teacher I need something inspirational to keep me excited about teaching and give me a new perspective from which I can tap in to and share within school.”

You can’t do something like the GLP programme without fundamentally changing your world view; until you’ve experienced life or lived in another country, in a different way from what you’ve always known, you can’t possibly understand people from different countries and the challenges that they face.  In addition, it made me explicitly aware that I have the skills required to be a good teacher – in Rwanda you can’t rely on IT and resource boxes as they don’t exist.  You have to go back to what you know and rely on your own creativity to give an active lesson.  I have a lot more confidence in my abilities as a teacher now.  The challenges I faced empowered me.  You only grow as a person when you take risks and I didn’t fully appreciate that until Rwanda.  The whole experience has reminded me of what I know and what I do well.

When you come back from Rwanda your enthusiasm for your career is refreshed.  I have always been a teacher who wants to enthuse students, but now I’m a person who does not put a ceiling on myself – I constantly want to learn more, explore and take chances.  Since participating on GLP I have been more inclined to take chances in my teaching, both in the methods I use and in the range of experiences I aim to offer the students.  It’s been a learning curve that’s for sure, but I’ve been learning with a network of others.  As a group, I think we have achieved a lot and I believe it is because we have been pushed out of our comfort zone, you might not know it at the time, it might take a while after your participation in GLP before you can reflect and consider how far you have come, but you will.

Living and working together with the rest of my cohort in Rwanda made me realise how much we all have to give.  The synergies of everyone bouncing ideas off of each other blew me away.  I couldn’t believe some of the ideas and I found it motivating and exciting.  Since returning there isn’t one project that I’ve instigated that I have worked on independently, it has taken support in my own school and with colleagues, some who are also GLP alumni, who are very interested in Learning for Sustainability (LfS) and global education.

Some projects will be sustainable, others will not, but don’t feel disheartened by the projects that don’t flourish in a way that you hope they will.  Use them as a stepping stone onto the next thing.  In 2014 I started the Bridging Literacy Project.  The project was truly inter-disciplinary and reciprocal.  In Scotland, P5/P6 students from across five participating schools in Scotland (including my own) developed reading books around the theme of Soil.  In Rwanda, School Based Mentors from IEE worked with students in five Groupe Scolaires on the same project but from a Rwandan perspective.  In both countries children researched their local environment, practiced literacy and numeracy and were creative.  At the end of the project the books were exchanged giving Rwandan children an insight into the work the Scottish children had undertaken and vice versa.  The project continued to work in 2015 with additional schools engaging.  This year, the number has dropped significantly but it continues to progress. In my school the students have started their own writing club just to write books for Rwanda.  The project is also running in Muirfield Primary, with an adapted model to meet the needs of students at Muirfield.  Both have become sustainable and no longer require input from me apart from transporting books to and from Rwanda.

Hazlehead Primary continues to look for sustainable and meaningful ways to engage our students in LfS whilst actively supporting Rwanda.  One recent example of this is the work our school has done around rights and Chris Riddell’s “My Little Book of BIG Freedoms”.  The book details 16 human rights with each one represented by an illustration.  We decided to give each class a right to illustrate, in the upper stages some classes had two; each student throughout the school investigated the right and made an illustration which they felt encapsulated that right.  We asked students from G.S. Shangi in Western Rwanda to do the same, which they did.

In Hazlehead Primary the drawings completed by our students were judged by students from S4, S5 and S6 at Hazlehead Academy, with a winner from each right being selected.  The winning drawings were framed, with help from the Scottish Book Trust, and turned into prints which we plan to sell.  The proceeds from the sale of the prints will, we hope, provide enough money to establish a revolving fund which we will use to grant loans to students of Shangi Boarding School in Western Rwanda who wish to start up small enterprises.

At Hazlehead Primary our Head Teacher is an active philanthropist who works with the local community and outdoor learning is something we are keen to progress with.  For a number of years our students have been working with Friends of Hazlehead Park, a charity that supports the preservation and development of Hazlehead Park.  As it is on our doorstep, and used by the majority of our students at school, we were looking for new ways to engage the local community.  Following a car journey with John Steel (Seaton Primary, Rwanda 2015), where he mentioned his desire to do something at Seaton Park, we finally stumbled upon the idea of a joint project that asked the students to create 17 sculptures, each one representing a Sustainable Development Goals which we can then place in both parks to create a sculpture trail.  We have contacted the Friends of Hazlehead and Friends of Seaton and both parks are very interested in working with us.  Our next step is to have the students design sculptures of the 17 goals, all being made out of sustainably sourced materials.  We are currently working with students from Hazlehead Academy who, as part of their Leadership course, are going to coordinate the sourcing of materials and to support the design, development and placing of some of the sculptures.  This project not only encourages the learners to research the Sustainable Development Goals, it also involves the wider community and actively encourages dialogue.

To support the creation of a whole school approach, you have to avoid wanting to keep every project to yourself.  As a Deputy Head Teacher who has an awareness of programmes or projects that will fit nicely into the curriculum, I want to share these opportunities with my colleagues.  It can be daunting for some practitioners; they may not be fully aware of LfS and how it fits, it’s up to you to encourage and empower colleagues to try new projects, take risks, be brave and teach new things.  At Hazlehead Primary the staff is embedding LfS into their teaching.  Within our ethos block, LfS is the main vehicle for learning.  Our Eco Group are investigating the recycling of electronics.   Students and teachers are making the links between local and global and how we can sustainably support our world. It is fascinating to see how much the students are beginning to know about LfS, they know about the Sustainable Development Goals and Children’s Rights.  They are learning about the refugee crisis and the lives of others around the world as well as in our city.  I’m interested to know what they, after so much exposure to this, think their role in the world is; I hope to encourage the students to design a survey and interview each otherBy letting children design and ask the questions of each other I hope to ensure they are giving the answers that they believe in, rather than giving answers they think the teacher wants to hear.  It will be fascinating to learn what they believe in after three years of post GLP work; what difference has it made to them?


Inspired by Christine’s experiences?

Find out what your GLP could look like here