Every four months, administrators and teachers from our five Ugandan partner schools meet over lunch to share the progress they are making toward the “SMART goals” each school has identified for the year. A SMART goal is defined by the following acronym: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.
During a recent meeting, one of the head teachers exclaimed, “When you have a mountain of problems, you don’t know where to begin. But if you pick one problem, one goal at a time, you can make progress!”
During the initial phases of One School partnership, each one of our partner schools had a mountain of problems: poor to non-existent infrastructure, unskilled administrative staff, inadequate classroom space, lack of educational materials, poorly trained teachers, no running water, no electricity, little parent involvement, inadequate security, poor sanitation and no lunch for students and staff. How in the world can so many problems be solved? The situation seemed overwhelming.
The process of creating a five year plan organized the problems into manageable, discreet projects spanning the years. And the process of meeting with peers who were struggling with the same challenges gave each one of these stakeholders hope and energy to keep trying. For instance, the head teacher at Kassanda Boarding Secondary shared that one of their smart goals was for teachers to complete their lesson plans at the start of the term. They accomplished that! This small success was joyful and energizing. The teachers from the other schools wanted to emulate them: “We can complete OUR lesson plans by the start of the term too. If they can do it, we can too!”
Valuable sharing happens at these meetings. For instance, the Ugandan government health department has a free program to administer deworming pills to school children three times a year. Deworming has been proven to be an immensely successful and cost effective intervention to improve children’s health, nutrition and ability to learn. The topic of deworming came up, and soon it became clear that not one of these schools had received visits from the government health official. Representatives were chosen from each school to visit the local government health office together to request regular deworming treatments. Hussein Tadesse, the One School program manager, plans to come along on that visit to provide silent support.
The owner of our first partner school had some good advice for the schools newer to One School at a Time partnership: “Don’t think that One School is going to do everything for you. They will kick start you but you have to do your own work. One School did not give us the fish but they taught us how to catch the fish.”
These teachers and staff look forward to these productive get-togethers and have started to schedule and lead the meetings whether or not a One School at a Time representative can attend. This is an encouraging sign that partner schools are in charge of their own destinies and are ready to solve their own problems.