What I learned from Teacher Support in Laos
I always love traveling to the field for PoP, but I was especially excited leading up to my most recent trip because I was going to Laos for the first time. Though I communicate often with members of our Lao team, it was the first time I’d be meeting the majority of the team in person. I was eager to see our offices, visit schools, speak with teachers and experience PoP’s impact in the country firsthand.
As the organization’s grant writer, I talk and write about PoP programs a lot. I spend time speaking with our in-country teams to understand the intricacies of what’s going on in PoP classrooms. But seeing our local staff in action is always a game changer — no amount of emails or Skype calls can replace the experience of actually being in a PoP classroom, watching a teacher in action or speaking to a ministry official about the impact a PoP program has had for students. My trip to Laos was no exception.
My visit aligned with the team preparing to pilot the Teacher Support program in 40 schools. Prep includes many things; it includes the Monitoring and Evaluation team administering literacy assessments to students, the Teacher Support team delivering mock training workshops and everyone in the office who has a free second using it to package literacy materials.
Throughout the week, I traveled to communities with our team while they administered assessments and watched as the PoP office was covered in piles of vocab flash cards, wall charts and teacher guides that would be handed out during the first training workshop. On my second to last day, I got to travel to a school and observe while one of the PoP Teacher Support trainers, Na, delivered a sample lesson to a classroom full of third-grade students.
The lesson was the best thing I saw on my trip. Na was enthusiastic and students were engaged from the minute she started speaking. She had students repeat different words in English, used hand symbols to help them remember words and showed short videos to put words into context. She corrected students when necessary but kept a positive tone the entire lesson. If anything, students who had been corrected were even more motivated to pronounce the next word correctly.
The lesson was exemplary of what I try to convey when I write about PoP’s work. A local leader, who grew up experiencing the educational needs the Teacher Support program works to address, standing in front of a classroom and leading a lesson that was putting students at the very center of learning. I was sad when the demonstration ended, but took so much comfort in the fact that Na would be guiding other teachers to lead the same kind of lessons.
The trip reminded me of one of the many reasons I’m proud of the work PoP is doing; PoP goes beyond infrastructure to ensure that students are actually learning inside the classroom. Our teams recognize that a new school is only an initial step to helping students achieve better life opportunities. Literacy is what will make the difference for these students, and watching local leaders, like Na, assures me that the PoP approach is creating long-term change, rather than offering short-term solutions, in our partner communities.