The essence of effective, meaningful service is connecting with others through friendship, collaboration, and empathy.
Over the years, we at School of the Nations in Brasilia, Brazil have carried out service projects for daycare and educational centers that operate with minimal educational resources. We wondered how we could better support these educators.
In 2018, we began an educational extension project called UNAtions. We wanted more than the occasional, episodic forms of service and to create a long-term, high impact project in terms of transformative capacity. We sought a small number of institutions whose philosophy of growth and transformation were similar to ours and interested in a long-term relationship through which all would take an active role in developing and strengthening educational environments and practices.
UNAtions was developed by educators for educators to enable them to share their knowledge, experience, and methods to promote learning, development, and children’s ability to contribute to improving society through service.
When we founded UNAtions, online communication platforms helped us connect between visits; however, the pandemic required rethinking how we collaborate.
We have found that it is possible both to sustain and strengthen our service projects and connections with our sister schools online. The trust we developed before the pandemic helped tremendously. We expanded our online resources of workshops, videos, and curricular materials and are now achieving our service-related goals entirely online. Today, we share these resources with other schools and are expanding the reach and impact of our other service projects as well.
Our staff openly shares with our partner schools highly relevant issues with which we are struggling. We do not have a prescribed way to offer professional development, and we tailor what we share from our programs, curricula, and practices to our partner schools’ needs.
Our most advanced collaboration is with the Escola do Futuro in the densely populated Zona Leste in Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas and one of the cities hardest hit by the pandemic. The school serves 400 children and adolescents. The institution that oversees Escola do Futuro, the Associação para o Desenvolvimento Coesivo da Amazônia, is in Zumbi dos Palmares, which, like other districts in the region, faces challenges with infrastructure, social inequality, and a lack of security.
Many schools like Escola do Futuro that are private and charge low tuition had to close because of the loss of students and teachers caused by the pandemic. Escola do Futuro, on the other hand, lost an insignificant number of students and is now thriving because of teamwork and their ability to respond quickly and resourcefully to obstacles.
Two of our Early Childhood educators, Meissa Mendes and Diana Alencastro, their then Principal, Melaney Tinkess, and Executive Director, Lisa Perskie, volunteered to launch the UNAtions project. When they visited Escola do Futuro and began working with educators, the staff requested support with discipline and best practices for hands-on learning.
Our teachers prepared two days of learning based on Positive Discipline, working with teachers in small groups. As their work progressed, other underlying issues became apparent—a lack of curricula, a deeper understanding of effective instructional strategies to engage students, strategies to plan developmentally appropriate learning units, and the understanding that curriculum is a guide, not a rigid routine to follow.
One of the key aspects of our UNAtions projects is reading the reality of the school environment and actively listening to prepare strategies to help. In partnership with their administration, we set goals based on urgency and built a simple, concrete strategic plan in which every school sector took part. This set the stage for innovation and making profound pedagogical changes.
Traditionally in the region, a sign of good classroom management is children sitting quietly throughout the school day. Our teachers encouraged early childhood staff at Escola do Futuro to use their outdoor spaces and the materials available locally to set up engaging, dynamic learning centers. They created an inviting tropical hut in their Library and learning centers in classrooms using the brightly colored materials of the Amazon region. As active learning increased, they saw disciplinary issues decrease dramatically.
Educational Technology Coordinator, Blenda Batista, held online workshops with Escola do Futuro to introduce educational tools and ideas to help teachers engage students in deep, fun, and meaningful learning. They chose to focus on voice and choice with students, and for teachers, interactive online lessons, inquiry based-learning, and gamification strategies.
Seeing the benefits of the strategies they put in place helped set the groundwork for teachers to set new goals and try new strategies. Successful initiatives are potent catalysts of further change and are even more critical when resources are scarce.
As we work with our sister schools and learning institutions based on the philosophy of friendly collaboration and capacity-building, we have witnessed promising developments both before the pandemic and now as we limit our interactions to online. Beginning a working relationship online poses challenges, but it is certainly possible to achieve positive, encouraging results and real progress.
It is not about telling others what to do, but sharing one’s experiences with them, listening carefully to their problems, and exercising empathy so the solutions developed together are practical, meaningful, transformative, and sustainable.
We invite you to visit our website to learn more about our service projects. The link is https://sites.google.com/edn.org.br/unations/home
Lisa Perskie is Executive Director at School of the Nations in Brasilia, Brazil. The UNAtions is an educational extension project created by a group of educators from School of the Nations. It was developed by educators for educators to enable them to share their knowledge, experience, and methods to promote learning, development, and children’s ability to contribute to improving society through service.
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