Be an agent of change; be a teacher!
Teaching profession is more complicated than it looks. Good teachers should have enough competency to touch the hearts of their students which many people might lack. But the most difficult task a teacher could perform is teaching a student how to teach.
Today's fast change has made teaching even more complicated, so teachers are marching towards entrepreneurial pedagogy to empower learners with soft skills.
By: Shatha Jararaa
A prominent figure of entrepreneurial pedagogy leaders in Palestine is Dr. Saida Affouneh, pedagogy specialist at An-Najah National University, a women's advocate and a loving mom of three children.
Dr. Affouneh was appointed as the Dean of the Faculty of Educational Science and Teacher Training in 2017. Since then she worked hard to improve the faculty vision as she considers it one of the most important faculties that generates teachers who are agents of change.
This was a difficult task that she created an advisory board for the faculty that included 18 members. The members were from An-Najah and other universities from the educational field or other disciplines.
The board works collaboratively together to improve the educational system. It is built on integration bases not competitive, so the council launched a website with a new vision. The board's work focuses on 4 components; namely, learner empowerment, infrastructure, competency building of faculty members and new programs.
When I interviewed Dr. Affouneh, she talked about learners as the most important component of the faculty. She mentioned that she follows a new approach to deal with students. Students write down their needs and discuss them with the dean and faculty members through a number of workshops. They also suggest recommendations that contribute to the development of the faculty. Dr. Affouneh said: "Last year we listened to graduates who recommended creating new agenda to improve their English speaking skills." The faculty took this into consideration and had an agreement with the University of Brighton in the UK where four groups of volunteers come from the UK to work closely with the students and faculty members. The agreement aims to improve students speaking skills and introduce them to new cultures. The volunteers provide the students with direct feedback on their writing and interact with them to improve their speaking skills. The faculty holds other workshops that include singing, dancing and drama activates as well as cooking sessions. This is to put them in direct contact with the culture and improve their English skills. This method proved efficiency as students learn the language without books and lectures.
The volunteers are either retired academics, activists of Palestine Solidarity Campaign or school teachers. Dr. Affouneh also mentioned that An-Najah attracted sports trainers to benefit physical education students.
The faculty also offers weekly workshops on how to develop business plans, how to be optimistic, public speaking skills, how to develop learning videos, teaching aids and media integration. The teachers in turn try to integrate these topics in their classes.
One of the popular workshops is "Why I'm proud to be teacher" workshop. This workshop brings school teachers to share their teaching experience with the students. It also brings some experts in science in cooperation with Project Hope to discuss various topics such as astronomy.
Dr. Affouneh mentions: "We have interactive classrooms all over the faculty, laptops for faculty members, Wi-Fi network and a well-equipped learning space, and we're working on establishing smart laps. We also produced a small library that contains books donated by people and students to encourage positive attitudes about reading. So the students read as much as they want and write their reflections in small paragraphs that are published on the website. Furthermore, we renewed the furniture and made the classes more interactive."
The faculty teaching approach is moving towards scientific research; moving from old school teaching to research-based teaching. Dr. Affouneh said that the faculty is working on three phases:
- Capacity building of faculty members with regards to qualitative research:
This requires moving from publishing research in local journals to international ones and improving research and English language skills. Therefore, the faculty had an agreement with Coventry University in the U.K where two experts come to An-Najah and offer training for faculty members and some graduate students on qualities research. "The efforts paid off, so we have now 10 research groups of different disciplines to start conducting qualitative research", said Dr. Affouneh.
- Have more publication:
The faculty has worked hard on this stage and gained several research grants and three awards in research.
- Move towards more research-based teaching and learning:
The faculty is developing pedagogical approaches through piloting new strategies.
Dr. Affouneh also talked about the new programs added to the faculty program list. "Last year we had three new programs; namely, BA in pre-school, MA in talented education and PhD in teaching and learning. These programs are offered only at An-Najah. The teaching and learning PhD program will include specialists from Coventry and Spain."
Dr. Affouneh talked about learning approaches integrated in classrooms such as project based learning, community based learning, on-line learning and blended learning. She added that the faculty offers 6 practicum courses that qualify students to be school teachers.
Unemployment rates among teachers
Unemployment rates are increasing among human sciences graduates, so the number of enrollees is decreasing. Some graduates try to solve this problem by continuing their graduate studies and work in other fields. This increase is related to all disciplines in Palestine. Thus, Dr. Affouneh is trying to push the students towards creating their own startups through empowering them with the needed skills not only in the field of teaching but other places. "We have cooperation with private schools to help our students find jobs. Private schools employ 10 of our graduates annually."
"Living in the UK and Europe in general is tempting and easy. I really enjoyed the time I spent there, but I felt that Palestine is the place where I should be. It was difficult for me to come back, but I felt it's a must to come back and try to make a change here. I am doing my best to change the stereotyped image about teachers."
"Travelling is convenient to me, so I recommend my students to travel and be in touch with other cultures. Teachers are the most important category in the society especially in Palestine as they are the generators of doctors, engineers, businessmen and others; a good teacher takes a hand, opens a mind and touches a heart."
It is worth mentioning that Dr. Affouneh is also the founder and director of the E-Learning Center (ELC) at An-Najah, and associate professor at the Faculty of Education and Teacher Training. She is the coordinator of Zamala fellowship for improving the quality of higher education. She was consultant to develop a national policy paper for open education, a Project sponsored by AQAQ (Accreditation and Quality Assurance Commission) and AMIDEAST and was the Chairperson of the international conference for learning and teaching in the digital world 2014, 2017 organized by the E-Learning Center at An-Najah. She has been granted by Sloan Consortium to participate in an online leadership program in 2013, as the first scholar from the Middle East. She also obtained three research awards including the Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award, the Excellence in On-line Learning Awards and the Excellence in research Award. Dr. Affouneh believes in lifelong learning as a strategy of life, and now she's preparing for her 2nd PhD in innovation and entrepreneurship.