From the Top End to the rooftop of the world

As Stephanie Gill (Cohort 2016) completed her Leadership Development Program placement at Katherine High School in the Northern Territory, she found herself wondering where the next step in her teaching journey would take her. Looking to challenge herself and continue to make a difference in the world, Stephanie took up a teacher Fellowship with Limited Resource Teacher Training (LRTT). She reflects on how her experience as a Teach For Australia Alumna positioned her for the challenging and rewarding role of teaching teachers in Nepal.

Stephanie Gill describes the opportunity to take up an LRTT Fellowship as, “Your opportunity to give back.”

“In some countries in the developing world, there is little to no tertiary education for teachers. Often teachers walk into a classroom without knowledge of pedagogical strategies or curriculum and have no access to professional development or networking,” the Katherine High School teacher said.

Stephanie Gill leading team building exercises in Nepal.
Stephanie Gill leading team building games in Nepal.

Founded by teachers in 2011, LRTT is a social enterprise that upskills and energises teaching communities across the world, supporting 15 local organisations across 11 countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. One of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals calls for “International co-operation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island states.” LRTT helps meet this goal by providing training and support to 2500 teachers each year, who go on to deliver better education to more than 100,000 children each day.

Fellowships are delivered during summer school holidays. This allows Australian teachers like Stephanie the chance to make an impact beyond their own classroom through a richly rewarding three- to four-week Fellowship program each January. LRTT’s annual impact report illustrates the extent to which Fellows make a tangible difference in the careers and lives of teachers residing in countries where people live on less than $5 a day. 93 per cent of teachers LRTT works with say they feel more confident in their teaching skills after LRTT training.

“I first came across LRTT on social media. I saw an advertisement promoting every child having the right to access a quality education, which were similar values that led me to TFA,” Stephanie said.

“At the time I was completing my final assignment for my Master’s degree and was feeling unsure of where my teaching journey would lead me beyond TFA. The two-year commitment to the TFA program was all I had focused on for so long that I felt stumped at where the next part of my journey would lead me.” 

“After researching the LRTT program I decided to apply for a Fellowship in Nepal for the following January. At first I was worried that as a teacher with only two years’ experience in the classroom – and having only just graduated – there was very little skills and knowledge I would be able to contribute to the teachers in Nepal. What LRTT allowed me to realise was the exact opposite of this. Those two years taught me more than I would have ever thought possible and this realisation has allowed me to become a stronger leader in the classroom.”

The LRTT Fellowship allowed Stephanie and her colleagues from around the world to work in pairs to plan and deliver professional learning to groups of 10 Nepalese teachers. Stephanie was paired with a Scottish teacher with more than 50 years’ experience and said that learning the differences in the countries’ education systems, sharing stories of their most challenging classes and the strategies that allowed them to survive and thrive gave Stephanie a new perspective on teaching.

“The Fellowship taught me skills and gave me ideas that I could then take back to my school in Australia,” Stephanie said.

“The biggest challenge in delivering the workshops was working with the very limited resources the Nepalese teachers had access to. Their classrooms were a third of the size I was used to and they had up to 42 students in each class. The desks were long benches with 3-4 students squeezed in together, made of metal that banged and echoed throughout the room.”

Stephanie Gill running one of the LRTT workshops.

A single metre-wide whiteboard at the front of the room, no internet access, no TV, projector or desktop computer – as well as no access to a printer or coloured paper – was the norm in the schools Stephanie visited. She added that during her Fellowship she began to appreciate the extensive access to resources she had in Australia and realised how dependent she was on them.

“At first, I thought within this context how is it possible to teach?” Stephanie said. 

“But despite the differences in the physical environments and access to resources, the principles of teaching are the same. Kids are still kids, they need structure and clear expectations and engaging activities. The strategies we use can be shared across countries to collectively improve not only the teachers who don’t have the opportunities Australia has but also improve our own.” 

“Watching these teachers, working in conditions I never dreamed possible, demonstrated to me the value of all of the classroom management that we are taught and use automatically.”

Stephanie said that at the start of the workshops the teachers she worked with reported that they had trouble getting students to stop talking and other minor level behaviour, allowing her to explain some classroom management skills such as non-verbal strategies – the teacher stare, proximity and a simple traffic light warning system.

“I have kept in contact with a few of the Nepalese teachers and have had several of them reach out thanking me for these strategies and sharing stories of the things they have tried and their success with them,” Stephanie said. 

“I am grateful to all the teachers I worked with in Nepal as they reignited my passion for teaching and reminded me of the reasons I chose TFA. LRTT provides a unique platform where many people with diverse and extensive experiences can come together to share their knowledge. It is this knowledge and the process of sharing with each other which is the most valuable resource we have.”

LRTT is now recruiting for January Fellowships in Uganda, Nepal, Cambodia and Laos. Teachers pay to enrol in the program and costs are dependent upon destination. Visit LRTT.org for information on Fellowships, to live chat with an LRTT staff member, and to apply for 2020 and beyond.

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