From the first meeting with Dr. Jennifer McMahon we envisioned developing and delivering educational workshops to help build literacy, programs that aren’t only for the teachers, but can be delivered to their students as well.

Jennifer has been such an inspiration and her dedication to education is so apparent, much like all of us here in Cambodia. Through countless hours of planning and discussion with both Va and Sror (who both have degrees in teaching) we were soon well on our way to being able to provide some deep professional learning experiences.

In late March, Sror, Va and John met with the Directors of the schools in Prek Toal and “pitched” our idea for a training workshop.

The topic was one that had been mentioned to us by the teachers; professional development is seen as a true need. Once a teacher has graduated and has received their teaching certificate, additional professional development doesn’t happen, at least on a regular basis.

In speaking with the directors we decided the weekend of May 4th and 5th would be the dates of the first Teacher Institute and would be hosted at the Butterfly Pea Hotel.

Jennifer developed a wonderful workshop around the topic of deepening literacy through writing, and 15 of the 17 teachers were able to attend.

The first evening we were able to have an icebreaker and begin our workshop in laying the groundwork for the following day. The entire experience was truly inspirational, and to witness the teachers’ passion for education and guiding their students to new levels was fantastic.

Not only were we able to provide new techniques for the teachers, it was also an opportunity for us to learn as well. The questions and insight into how they would use this workshop in their own teaching was energizing.

Of course, the best part in my opinion was how this could be used with the National Educational program and syllabus.

The cross learning from each other and exchange of ideas was something that the teachers told us hadn’t happened before. The ability to meet and discuss whether one was an elementary or intermediate teacher was a new experience.

Personal narrative writing was new as well. Some teachers said this was the first time they had ever been asked to write about themselves.

Informational writing based on “wondering” was new too. Teachers seemed to enjoy the process of asking questions about a natural phenomenon, and they talked about how they could use this idea with students. Writing as a means to further develop literacy was a new concept in general.

The best part is that it can all be used with the National Curriculum. In the week since the workshop we have been the beneficiaries of many emails and text messages on how the teachers are using these tools in their classrooms.

The early part of July will see us hosting 15 teaching students from the University of Hong Kong to further our learning workshops at the school through co-teaching.

Jennifer is working directly with the professor from The University of Hong Kong to help develop anchor experiences that can easily lead into the many kinds of writing presented at the May Teacher Institute.

We are well on the way to developing a program that has a strong foundation and is sustainable for years to come.