As part of its efforts to foster the professional development of English language teachers and to strengthen the Communities of practice, the Association of Teachers of English in Rwanda (ATER) organized its first Communities of Practice conference on 30 June 2019. This conference brought together teachers from nine CoPs that ATER has helped establish over the years. The aim of the conference was to empower Communities of Practice and inspire teachers to take part in knowledge and experience sharing as well as professional networking.
The CoP conference was an innovative idea and a break from the traditional ATER annual conferences in which teachers were mostly attendees while presentations were made by academics and experts whose presentations were beneficial to the teachers. While this was and still remains a good idea, ATER decided that putting a spotlight on the CoP members was not only a way of furthering the professional development of teachers by allowing them to develop presentation skills necessary in sharing their experiences, it was also an opportunity to consolidate the teachers as part of a community whereby experiences are shared and lessons learned from each other.
The breadth of issues covered by the teachers in their presentations indicates how active their communities of practices are in dealing with the challenges facing English language teachers locally as well as globally. In fact, the presentations indicate that Rwandan teachers are not oblivious to global issues in ELT for which they are adopting local solutions. Key issues such as class management, gender-responsive pedagogy, supporting learners with special needs, using debate to enhance classroom language, teaching literary texts or empowering young learners through storytelling as well as harnessing the affordances of ICT in ELT to enhance learning and access to resources were put to prominence by the presenting teachers at the conference. For a detailed list of presenters and abstracts, click here.
The success of the event and most importantly the learning that resulted from it was beyond ATER expectations. Participants and presenters alike lauded the impact the conference had on their knowledge as teachers and how likely it would impact on their practice as ELT practitioners.
Teachers repeatedly indicated in their feedback how beneficial their attendance at the conference had been helpful in learning new techniques and developing transferrable skills. The learning ranged from acquiring new techniques to developing an awareness of issues that teachers were otherwise indifferent to.
For example, a teacher from Kayonza CoP observed “I learnt how to help students with disabilities by creating an inclusive class. I discovered that students can play a big role in helping their colleagues if the right strategies are used and an inclusive environment is created in the classroom.” Alternatively, teachers felt more empowered to support young learners but also to ways of engaging in their own professional development. “I learnt effective ways of engaging lower primary learners to listen to and narrate stories. I have been inspired by presentations on teacher development through collaboration and sharing” explained a teacher from Kicukiro CoP.
For presenters, the conference was doubly beneficial as it allowed them to develop confidence and improve their presentational skills in addition to learning practical tips. As one presenter from Karongi CoP explained:
I have developed self-confidence- standing strong in front of others to share my experience with teaching without fear. I also learnt many instructional strategies like how to make my classroom more inclusive.
Overall teachers welcomed the CoP Conference and requested that the conference be held more regularly: “If possible, there should be two workshop style conferences in a year because they are very helpful.” Suggested one teacher from Kayonza CoP. This is an indication of the relevance of such an event in the teachers’ professional development to which is ATER is committed. Given the success and the demand expressed by the participant, such events are going to be help regularly to ensure teachers across CoPs are empowered and continue to empower each other through the process of knowledge exchange and sharing.