Working to improve learning outcomes in English and Mathematics for 4.2 million children in Rwanda
How BLF has helped me to improve the way I lead my school

I am Sister Donata Nyirahabyalimana, from the Congregation Foyer de Charite Remera-Ruhondo, Musanze District in the Northern Province.I have been the headteacher of Groupe Scolaire Remera since 2012. A government-owned day school, GS Remera offers 12 years of Basic Education to 2,913 students and has 71 teachers and 4 admin staff. I like education and try my best to improve the school. In 2018, I was selected by the Building Learning Foundations (BLF) programme as one of the 60 National Leaders of Learning (NLL) in the country. In this article, I talk about how BLF has helped me to improve the way I lead my school. 

I have learnt a lot about leadership for learning, not only in relation to what a leader must be and the standards for effective school leadership, but about delegation of power. And this has been very important as I lead a large community of students and parents with the assistance of a team that includes the Director of Studies (DOS), the Director of Discipline (DOD), the School Subject Leaders (SSLs) and the teachers. Each member of the team has a role to play and everyone is responsible for coordinating activities related to his/her department.

As a team, we have learnt to develop and implement together the School Improvement Plan (SIP). The School Self Review (SSR) is now helping us to see if what we have planned is going well or not, if we need to change something or continue as we are. Members of the School General Assembly Committee (SGAC) have realised that there is much work to do to improve our school, which is difficult because everybody is busy in their everyday activities. Identifying these challenges didn’t happen before participating in the BLF training.

A timely concept presented by BLF is that of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), a space for headteachers to meet regularly. Personally, ever since I was appointed as headteacher of GS Remera, my understanding was that we were competing in order to be a successful school. Not knowing how to do it, I just worked. I struggled alone, trying this and that, sometimes not knowing if what I was doing was good or bad. The first thing I like about BLF’s Leadership for learning approach is that it introduced the good practice of headteachers being together, sharing good experiences as well as the challenges we face in our everyday life at school.

I learnt that when I have something good which can help to improve learning and teaching, I have to share it with others. Equally, when I meet challenges, I can seek advice from colleagues without being ashamed, wondering if people will laugh at me because of my failure.

The PLC has taught me the importance of being part of the family we are and of learning from others. Everyone has a special talent to share with others and no headteacher is superior to others. Before this training everyone remained alone, thinking that a challenge they encountered was a catastrophe that could not be overcome. PLC meetings take place in different schools, and when you are in other schools you learn many things. For me, one attraction about visiting other schools is to see how different they are, whilst also recognizing that there are many similarities.

At classroom level, I am observing that teachers and students together are making lessons dynamic using visual aids and materials, and the outcome is an increase in children’s participation. BLF support through the English and Mathematics toolkits has led to new practices amongst P1, P2 and P3 English and Mathematics teachers in the school, including teachers getting together to study each unit of the toolkit, holding regular meetings as Communities of Practice (COPs) and using recorded lessons available on mobile smart phones.

Coaching is equally appreciated. I personally learnt to interact with myself, to reflect on how to manage challenges I encounter. I have learnt that there is no one who can solve those challenges on my behalf. I learnt that it is my team students, teachers, parents, all stakeholders and myself who will find solutions to our problems, instead of having someone else coming to tell me to this and that.

Thanks to the Building Learning Foundations Programme, I have learnt to interact with my teachers. Instead of standing in front of them, talking like a boss, I support and guide them, someone who makes them feel free and confident, who helps them to discover themselves, their strengths and their areas for improvement. In turn, teachers are learning to interact with students and parents, as the means to improve teaching and learning. To educate is not a career, it is a vocation.

The Building Learning Foundations Programme (BLF) is a programme of the Rwanda Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) and Rwanda Education Board (REB); it is funded by the United Kingdom’s Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) as part of its Learning for all Programme in Rwanda.
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