Kate Wheeldon: A Year in Uganda
In 2016, class teacher at Perseid School Kate Wheeldon, embarked on a sabbatical year working for Redearth Education in Uganda. We took the time to find out about her experiences, what she did whilst out there and what she learnt - and brought back.
"It is rare that teachers and school staff stop to appreciate that they are doing a great job, and this year gave me the pause to the do that"?.
With the need for a new perspective in life and a desire to share the skills she had developed at Perseid School, Kate was based in Masindi for one year, with the aim to collaborate with rural schools to support teachers in developing and improving their practices. Kate's efforts implemented a change that shared her knowledge gained at Perseid at a huge level; impacting hundreds of teachers and thousands of children across Uganda. Helping these children remain in school is crucial to improving their life chances and helping their families escape the cycle of poverty.
Kate found the experience incredibly inspiring, noting that despite the harsh conditions of poverty and hunger, children were determined to learn, and teachers were dedicated to fulfilling this. She learnt that great resources and teaching go beyond the classroom, gaining an appreciation for the effort involved in resource making as she sat in the dark, the electricity off, trying to write out history tasks by candlelight - eight times for eight groups in a class of sixty, and lessons of 200 taught under a mango tree!
One of the standout experiences for Kate was supporting the Masindi Centre for the Handicapped, as they improve their provision for children with autism; particularly those at the earlier stages of development. Kate noted that the teachers' job is made challenging by her working environment - a small, cluttered classroom, with little exposure to natural light. Utilising her own experience of working as a Special Educational Needs Teacher, and knowledge that the classroom environment is very important when teaching children with SEN, Kate and the class teacher worked together to create an environment that is conducive to learning, creating a space that is less overwhelming, to encourage more children to enter the classroom. Kate was thrilled to learn that the effect of these changes was significant, allowing more structure to lessons, calmer children and increased time spent learning.
When Kate returned to Perseid School after a year spent in Africa, she brought back with her an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all the resources and training that are available, both at Perseid and at a national level. Upon her return, Kate had a renewed passion for the arts. In all the lessons she observed in Uganda, it was undeniable that the children gained most, in terms of academic progression, confidence and happiness, when the lesson contained an element of one of the arts.
This motivated her decision to focus the Perseid School Summer Showcase on a story based in Africa - visiting Uganda was a huge sensory experience and she wanted to recreate the sounds, colours and atmosphere that she encountered as she knew that the pupils would respond positively to them. At Perseid School, it is very important to all staff that pupils are given the opportunity to learn about as many countries and cultures as possible so they can understand their place as a global citizen and this demonstrates our efforts in doing so.
"Kate had considerable experience and expertise in special educational needs from her work in the UK. One of the schools she supported was Masindi Centre for the Handicapped where she did some great work, helping teachers to develop their understanding of specific conditions such as autism and giving them strategies to engage all pupils. The staff were truly sorry when she left."?
Lynne Pritchard, Director