Tikondwe Teachers Project: The Evolution of Mission and Redefinition of Roles in a Long-Term International Educational Collaboration
Since 2004 college students, faculty, and community partners from the US have collaborated with teachers in rural schools in Malawi on participatory action research (PAR) projects designed to save lives, improve learning, and develop trans-global teaching and leadership skill. PAR is an assets-based model that encourages participatory development in which the community members function as change agents and researchers become facilitators of the change. US-based partners collaboratively plan across a year for a month of in country work each summer. A goal of the projects carried out hand-in-hand with Malawian educators is to ensure sustainability once the US-based partners are gone. To this end, US-based partners engage with local teachers who are on the ground and in country year round to identify their needs for the upcoming year. Solutions identified must be sustainable using TALULAR methods (teaching and learning using locally available resources). This effort is significant for many reasons, but here we focus on outcomes of its longevity, especially the evolution of its mission and redefinition of participant roles over time. As needs evolve and participants change in status and location, tensions arise that could strain collaboration. Projects begun on an ad hoc basis 13 years later require more formalization if they are to be sustained over time. For us, tenacity and trust have been sustaining factors. However it is critical to remember that trust is not static: collaborations must be resilient to endure across changes in institutional affiliation, teacher and head teacher changes, economic flux impacting support for education in Malawi, as well as donors and travel costs. This paper examines these changes in one global partnership, and the building and re-building of trust foundational to long-term collaboration. We draw on perspectives of partners including US and Malawian community partners, students, educators and administrators involved across time to the present. What unexpected challenges rock a global partnership over time? What strategies help partners to be flexible and resilient in the face of change? How are emerging needs articulated and the mission adapted? How does the dance of partners in and out of roles affect communication and collaboration? What does the establishment of cross-cultural trust look like at the micro level of the US university student attempting to carry out a PAR project in the Malawian context? What about the trust between project leaders and a new head teacher, or US-based IRB boards and the Malawian officials who oversee US work in-country? The capacity for sustainable responses generated by US based students and faculty working with Malawian change agents is profound. Building cultural competence and communication skills is step one; the continual and persistent re-building and re-defining of mission and relationships across time is the greater challenge. In this paper we examine mission evolution, the redefining of roles, sustainable leadership and participatory development within the context of the challenges, strategies and accomplishments of one global collaboration over time as its mission grows to the meet needs of partners, and participant roles fluctuate, with an emphasis on trust and tenacity: aspects of teaching, learning and leadership that unite educators and change agents everywhere.
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Wednesday, March 9, 2016
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