At the Tip of Your Fingers: How One Teacher Cultivated Connection during School Closures

When Wellspring brought us these workbooks, it reactivated my value, showing me that I can still do something. The workbook showed me that it is possible for me to continue teaching and learning even though there are no physical structures.”

During lockdown, what has connection looked like for you? Perhaps FaceTime catch-ups with friends and Zoom meetings instead of in-person have become the new routine. For many of us, innovation and technology has allowed us to maintain connection despite distance and restrictions. But in the midst of the pandemic, how do teachers in Rwanda connect with students and fellow colleagues when schools are closed and school communities are spread across hills and valleys?

Meet Jean de Dieu Niyonsenga, an innovative teacher and school-based mentor who used the resources at his fingertips to foster connection in creative ways.

Like many teachers in the midst of school closures, Jean was discouraged and itching to get back to educating the next generation. As a school-based mentor, Jean’s heart burned to build into teachers and members of the community to empower the school from the inside out. Before this year’s closures, Jean had the responsibility of sharing training materials with his fellow colleagues and was actively involved with local parents in the community to ensure each person is well supported and equipped to carry out their role in education. But how was he supposed to teach students, come alongside fellow teachers to empower their professional development, and support his community when school was closed? While reading through Wellspring’s workbook for teachers, something in Jean’s mind clicked: supporting and staying connected to his school community isn’t bound to just the classroom! He realized that despite closures, connection between teachers and the community can still continue with a little creativity. That’s when the thought came to Jean: “how can I share more widely about the lessons I got from the workbook that would benefit teachers at our school but also every teacher in our sector or district?”

Jean de Dieu Niyonsenga

With his phone in one hand and Wellspring’s Workbook in the other, Jean created a YouTube account and began creating videos to share Wellspring lessons he was learning with his community.

Wellspring showed me that it is possible. By using what I had, I started shooting videos using my phone and uploading them on Youtube. I shared the lessons on our school social groups and encouraged teachers to share the information with the wider community, especially the parents of our children.”

Using his Youtube channel as a platform, Jean posted a variety of videos sharing key lessons from Wellspring’s Workbook. One video  encouraged teachers, families, and community members to keep themselves and children safe through mask-wearing, hand washing, and staying home. Another video specifically for parents shared tips on how to help children get the most from the publicly broadcasted radio lessons during school closures, such as engaging with kids during the lessons and monitoring their time and progress. One video even shared ways for parents to encourage their children through positive behavioural management strategies, such as games and songs. Jean even filmed a series of videos just for teachers still gaining confidence in their ability to teach English, which provided example lessons and encouraged teachers to practice English at home and share with other teachers what they are learning.   

Not only did Jean’s YouTube channel become a platform for him to continue in his role as a school-based mentor, but it became an impactful space for him to reach both within his community and beyond it! Through sharing Wellspring’s workbook lessons, Jean discovered that teachers, parents, and school leaders found themselves encouraged and empowered to continue investing in quality education in new ways, despite the fact that quality education looked a lot different than usual.

In fact, one parent shared,“ I did not know that as a parent I can sit with my child and ask what they have learnt from the television lesson or radio lesson. After I was encouraged by my children’s teacher to do so, I tried doing it and it worked so well and I can see my children were happy that I asked. This is thanks to what you have been encouraging us to do as parents in order to support our children, I can now see what part I play in my child’s learning at home.”

By taking to YouTube, Jean not only empowered the school community during closures, but he also exemplified the power of asset-based community development (ABCD), which is a core component of Wellspring’s training that encourages the use of community assets and strengths to create local solutions. Using the resources and skills Jean uniquely possesses, he cultivated connection with the community, ensuring that all felt equipped and supported during the challenges of learning and teaching from home. Between teachers calling students to discuss what they learned from radio lessons, or parents checking in on their children’s learning at home, the ripple effects from Jean’s creativity are endless, and are even spreading beyond his own community to impact places that Wellspring may not have otherwise been able to reach! Jean’s YouTube channel is a creative and local solution to foster connection during a time of distance and separation and shows that the pursuit of learning and quality education will always continue, no matter the challenges. 

“Thank you Wellspring for your support and confidence in us as we continue to look for ways [to] support our children to continue learning from home and prepare them once schools reopen. This idea wouldn’t have come if I didn’t have the support of Wellspring.”