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'Healing Voices of Teachers: Conversations with our Inner Power' - Teacher Workshops in Colombia

By Andrea del Pilar Alvarado Camacho and Catherine O'Shea

UNESCO estimates that in addition to the 1.29 billion learners impacted at the height of the pandemic, nearly 60.2 million teachers around the world have also been affected by school closures due to the global pandemic. In Colombia, the entire education system has been impacted and teachers, students and families have had to adjust to in-person school closures, online learning and hybrid instruction with students returning to different learning environments.

Although most lessons are now back in the classroom, this period has been a huge challenge for Colombia’s teachers as they have had to quickly adjust to new working conditions, which meant working long hours and often using technology that they were not familiar with. Keeping in touch with students and their families remotely and providing wellbeing support proved an obstacle for many. Engaging and supporting colleagues was equally difficult.

Open Spaces

As a result of this sudden change to their work, teachers in Colombia reported experiencing exhaustion, anxiety, stress and tension between colleagues. The effort to quickly adapt and support their students at this time has affected teachers’ health and wellbeing considerably.

To provide further support to teachers who are part of the EduQuality program in Colombia, the team decided to offer ‘open spaces’ for teachers to freely share their experiences of the last few years. These spaces were needed to help teachers identify their own resilience and practices that can transcend moments of difficulty and lead to personal and collective growth. The first intervention of this type was a workshop delivered to teachers across the program.

'HEALING VOICES OF TEACHERS: CONVERSATIONS WITH OUR INNER POWER'

This workshop was designed to support the emotional well-being of teachers as well as investigate school dynamics and methods for improving teachers’ relationships with students. The design principle was to allow teachers to access their own healing and inner voices to find guidance. Bringing these voices together allowed teachers to find strength and power in shared narratives, as well as understanding the transformative and creative power of all education work.

The EduQuality program in Colombia has 6 school clusters:  

  • 3 in Bogotá in the towns of Suba, Kennedy, Usme and Ciudad Bolivar
  • 3 in Barranquilla and its metropolitan area municipalities such as Soledad, Malambo, Baranoa, Usiacuri and the city of Cartagena.

Virtual workshops were held for all the teachers in these clusters, with 285 teachers participating in total. Each workshop was three hours, structured into three sections with guiding questions that allowed teachers to recognize emotions, learnings and transformations that emerged during the time of the pandemic.

  1. RECOGNIZE. Generate a space for teachers to recognize, value, and be aware of the meaning they are giving, especially in this context of a pandemic, and in a critical and assertive way recognize the trend of their emotional states, beliefs, and thoughts.
  2. RELATE. Observe and recognize in your colleagues their contributions that benefit you, especially in relation to issues of personal transformation.
  3. INTEGRATE. Each participant identifies "practices", "habits" or actions that can support them in balancing, strengthening, and expanding their self-knowledge and their resilient and creative capacity to relate to the world.

Read the full Workshop Plan and guiding questions that teachers took part in here. 

Teacher Feedback during the Workshop

Throughout the workshops the EduQuality team collected and discussed a wide range of teacher perspectives around the key question ‘What have you felt, thought and learned about your role as a teacher during the pandemic?’ Read a few of their honest and transparent responses below; more responses are available here.

  • Global Pandemic: “The most interesting thing that I have learned is that these problems are opportunities to use the tools we have and to open ourselves to lifelong learning. Experience will always be an important reference to teach.”
  • Online Learning: “Students have had many concerns and teaching virtually is more difficult due to both external distractions and poor internet connections."
  • Students Needs: “The students have been affected emotionally, that is why the time we dedicate to listening to them is important.”
  • Communication with Families: “I have felt the need to understand each student's family environment since the pandemic forced us to enter the space of their homes.”
  • Teaching Strategies: “I have learned to reinvent myself, to be resilient, to have empathy, to be more supportive, to discover skills and talents that I did not know about myself.”
  • My Role as a Teacher: “Teachers must break down barriers, we must not be afraid of change, that it will drive us to excellence

Teacher Experiences Post-Workshop

After the workshops, teachers were invited to give feedback on their experience and how the workshop had changed the work in their individual institutions via surveys. Teachers reflected on the power of sharing their experiences with others and on the range of learnings that had come out of attending this workshop.

The responses from teachers included identifying the need to be listened to as teachers and to continue to offer words of encouragement and support to students. Teachers reflected on the role they carry out as agents of social change who can motivate and inspire, and that the work of a teacher benefits students far beyond the classroom.

Teachers were also encouraged to set goals for the future, such as to be constantly learning and up-to-date with developments in education practice. In reflection, many teachers shared that they learned new strategies and how to use classroom dynamics and communicate in a way that treats both the teacher and students as individuals. The workshops’ ability to bring teams of teachers together through shared experience was highly praised.

“It has allowed the teachers of my institution to be more united, that we understand each other better, we listen to each other more and when faced with a situation we use dialogue to resolve everything.”- Workshop Participant

Key Takeaways & Recommendations

After running these virtual workshops with nearly 300 teachers in Colombia, the EduQuality Colombia team reflected on key takeaways and outlined four recommendations for schools seeking new ways to specifically support their educators:

  1. Promote open spaces to share emotions, feelings and transformations that have arisen in the framework of the pandemic.
  2. Develop initiatives to contribute to a happy and motivated teaching team, where they feel recognized, valued and part of a team that works to achieve a shared goal.
  3. Listen to the voices of teachers and their experiences in the context of the pandemic to share in other contexts and strengthen learning communities.
  4. Share different practical habits and actions that help teachers to balance, strengthen and expand their resilience.

Workshops such as these have the potential to bring significant benefits to any school, as teachers who have dedicated time focused on their wellbeing are more adaptable, effective, have better leadership skills and overall will coexist in a positive way with the members of their team. 

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