I’m so grateful for the amazing opportunity to spend three days with Teach For Nigeria at the beginning of November. In those days we met with the governors of three states who each committed to growing and deepening their partnership with Teach For Nigeria, setting the organization on a path to scaling. We also visited schools, attended town halls with teaching fellows, alumni, and head teachers, and engaged with donors and Teach For Nigeria champions. The whole experience left me with new insights and so much optimism about Teach For Nigeria’s potential as a powerful force for transformation.
“Teach For Nigeria made me joyful,” said teaching fellow Obiye Emmanuel as she shared her experience at one of the events. She captured something that I’d been feeling as I visited schools and talked with fellows but hadn’t put my finger on—the fact that despite the immense challenges they face, there is a spirit of joy and optimism among them that is sometimes hard to find even in more resourced contexts. Why? I asked the team and their first reactions were that:
1). They’ve set out to foster the leadership of everyone rather than telling them what to do, which leaves room for their creativity, something that is so important to people and their sense of joyfulness, and;
2). Their coaches’ approach to building relationships with fellows and helping them feel personal support in the face of all the challenges they’re navigating. I’m excited for our team to understand more about the roots of this culture so we can learn from it and spread these insights across our network.
The testimonials of head-teachers spoke to the extraordinary impact of the fellows. One head teacher described the lengths to which a fellow in her school had gone to help a special needs student learn. Another shared that he had brought his own son back to his school and put him in a fellow’s class, and said he was encouraging other head teachers and teachers to bring their own kids back to attend their schools in fellows’ classrooms as well. “l am experiencing the impact of the fellow’s work in my own house,” he explained. There’s no better evidence of impact than that!
And there is so much evidence of the transformational impact of the teaching commitments on the fellows themselves, as there is all over the network.
“It’s not just a grand vision anymore—it’s a personal vision to have an equitable world for the children of Nigeria,” said Henry Anumudu, an alumnus. Most of the first cohort of alumni are still working directly with the issues they faced as fellows. Some are teaching, others are working their way into the state ministries of education. Fifteen are part of Incubate Africa, an initiative to develop and scale social innovations to address the roots of the issues they experienced as teachers. I met a teaching fellow who majored in computer science and was intending to pursue a career in that field after completing her teaching commitment, who told me that now that she understands the extent of the challenges in education, she will never leave it.
It was extraordinarily powerful to hear from the veteran teachers who are part of the Teach For Nigeria cohorts. One of them, Oyinda Oni, shared, “I don’t recognize myself. Others don’t recognize me…. It’s as if they took my head off and put a new one on.” She described how different her work is with children today and also shared that when her longtime colleagues observe her working differently, they too work differently.
At every turn, I witnessed the power of Teach For Nigeria’s collective approach—not only with the veteran teachers and head teachers but at every level. When we met with the governors, we went with whole delegations of Board members, staff members, and other allies and ambassadors. Not only did this help the stakeholders of Teach For Nigeria own its success, but in at least one of the meetings, the range of stakeholders present led to the success of the meeting in a really tangible way. The Governor’s schedule was so backed up that he was planning to cancel the meeting—until he saw so many influencers in the room, which led him to give us all the time we needed! And at every turn, we saw firsthand evidence of Teach For Nigeria’s deep commitment to partnering with stakeholders at every level of the system and helping to unleash everyone’s leadership in pursuit of their collective goals.
I left Nigeria having gained some sense of the overwhelming challenges facing local students and families, but also feeling such hope given the power of Teach For Nigeria’s approach to cultivating the assets within their communities to overcome them. We saw teaching fellows with 130-160 second and third standard children packed into rooms without functional desks. Many of the children are under-nourished given the extreme poverty and especially given an erratic mid-day meal program (which had been suspended in the two weeks prior to our visit).
Yet the teaching fellows were progressing with such optimism—in one classroom, they had organized the students into 15 groups, each with team leads, and were advancing their literacy skills and skills in math and science. When we entered one classroom, the teaching fellow shared that he has rallied his students to build furniture for their room—every Friday they walk in the community to find scrap materials and then work together to construct desks. In this way, he’s built the students’ sense of resourcefulness and responsibility, and their sense of team. What a testament to the idea that fostering local leadership is the best investment we can make! I’ve seen many schools in countries around the world with the desks they need, but without the sense of agency to make the most of those desks!