Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Lessons Learned in Tanzania - Pole Pole

Start of our climb up Kilimanjaro
While teaching in Tanzania taught me a direct lesson about being resourceful, there were also some indirect lessons associated with my time in Africa. Probably the most powerful came while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. We did not climb the entire mountain, only part of the Marangu Route, but this brief hike (ascending more than 2,500 feet over 5 miles and then back down),  made a lasting impression. In particular, the guides' exhortations to "pole pole" (Swahili for go slowly) got me thinking about our constant efforts to improve education.

The guides wanted us to go slowly for a couple of reasons. The first was to ensure that we did actually make it to our destination - the Mandara Hut. The climb is steep and plenty of people do not make it because they expend their energy early on or because of some injury incurred from inattention to the climb.
This reminds me of the point made by Stigler and Hiebert in The Teaching Gap that our efforts to improve education are often too frenetic and unfocused to be sustainable. Instead, we need to consider slow, purposeful (sometimes subtle) shifts that ensure we reach our final goal - student learning.

The other reason to take the climb slowly was so we did not miss anything along the way. Although this portion of the route is mostly forest, without any scenic views, that does not mean there is nothing to see. It is easy to miss some of the flora or fauna if one moves too quickly or without intention.
The same thing happens in education. We do not take time to notice the flowers let alone stop and smell them. I know my own teaching experience is much more positive when I focus on enjoying the journey rather than simply getting to the destination.

So I left Mount Kilimanjaro with a bracelet to commemorate the climb and the lesson.
Hopefully it will remind me to take my teaching practice slowly - to make it sustainable and enjoyable.

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