Guilford Learning Goes Global
The principles and practices of Guilford public education are making their way across the globe—all the way to Jordan. Through a partnership between the University of Connecticut and the non-profit Queen Rania Teacher Academy (QRTA) in Jordan, four sitting superintendents across the state have or are traveling to Jordan to work with principals in the country and one of those superintendents is Guilford’s Dr. Paul Freeman.
The partnership between UConn and QRTA is designed to give principals in Jordan advanced leadership skills. The partnership between the two began when Mary Tadros of QRTA and University of Connecticut Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP) Director Diane D. Ullman joined forces back in 2013. Shortly thereafter, Freeman was offered the opportunity to join the team.
“Diane reached out and asked me if I would like to be involved and I thought it was a really exiting opportunity,” he said.
Freeman’s role in the program involves direct instruction as well as contributing input to the design of the instructional program, focusing on a “Train the Trainer” model.
“A small group of us, about four of us, went over and spent a couple of days in Jordan,” he said. “We visited some of their schools so we were able to get in and see some of the settings we were talking about. I think that was one of the most helpful things for me to be able to see a little bit of the context. We met with some of the trainers with QRTA and they hosted an evening where they invited some of the principals from around the country to come in and talk with us.”
With the program now up and running, Freeman recently went over to teach, focusing on school and program design and management, at the end of August. For six days, Freeman worked with principals across the country, reviewing research and discussing implementation.
“We watched TED Talks, we read the research, we looked at school data,” he said. “The sessions were about six hours long each day and with a group of about 50 so we looked to make them really interactive, really sort of looking at how the things we talked about could be best applied to the context in Jordan.”
Freeman said a lot of work was done to understand how the research and his own experiences as a superintendent in Guilford could be made applicable to the country’s education system.
“What I tried really hard to do was say, ‘When I talk to you about what the research says, let me tell you what this looks like in my experiences and then you need to help me talk about what that could look like in the Jordanian context,’” he said. “Rather than say, ‘This is what we are doing and this is how you should be doing it here.’”
The public education system in Jordan has grown tremendously over the last 50 or so years, according to Freeman. While he said Jordan may be on the cutting edge of education in the Arab world, many outside factors pose challenges to education.
“They have resource challenges that would be staggering to us,” he said. “A principal told a story about being challenged by needing to separate a math class into two sections this year because the class size had hit 60 and she can’t justify 60 students working in a classroom with one teacher.”
Additionally, due to its geographic location, the country has been hit hard by the current refugee crisis.
“Jordan has been tremendously impacted by the number of Syrian refuges that they are picking up and educating in their public schools,” he said. “In addition to facing resource constrains previously, I think they have added somewhere around a quarter of a million students now.”
While Jordan faces certain challenges unique to the country, Freeman said he noticed challenges schools in the states are trying to combat as well.
“The system has grown very quickly, but I think the system [in Jordan] is still reflecting some industrial-era concepts around schools that we are still working hard to move beyond here in the states,” he said. “The idea of moving away from stand and deliver instruction and really getting students to begin engaging with their own learning.”
In teaching, Freeman said he was able to share lessons and models from the Guilford school system.
“We talked a lot about the structures that we have in Guilford, like professional learning communities where teachers are grouped together and expected to work together and expected to grow their professional practice together,” he said. “We talked a lot about the teaching model that we are still working to grow here in Guilford.”
Freeman is scheduled to go back to Jordan two more times in 2017 to speak with new groups of principals. Overall, the program is expected to affect up to 400 teachers in the country. Freeman said the experience has been one of the most challenging and beneficial in his career.
“At one level it just really helped to sharpen my instructional skills—I told our teachers that I came back a better teacher then when I left,” he said.
On another level, Freeman said the experience highlighted the good work being done in the Guilford school system.
“It reinforced that we are doing a lot of really good work at large in Connecticut but really specifically here in Guilford,” he said. “We do know the things that are effective for children and it is enlightening to go somewhere else where people are hungry for the opportunities that we have and to be able to recognize what we have.”